Silent Hill Series

By Shamus
on Nov 17, 2008
Filed under:
Game Reviews

I think one of the major mistakes they keep making with the Silent Hill series is that they keep trying to tell stories about the town itself and the cult that got things started. I don’t think the story of Silent Hill is what we’re here for. We’re here for the premise, which is a spooky town that can pull people into the otherword. Once we have that, we don’t need an ongoing tale. Grafting new people and events onto the established narrative doesn’t make the setting more interesting or compelling.

This graph depicts the highly accurate and scientific readings of several games in the Silent Hill franchise, using equipment to measure the freakishness (using the standard Lovecraft logarithmic scale) against the innate wackyness (as measured in kilostooges) of the content. All devices were calibrated against solitaire prior to measurements.
This graph depicts the highly accurate and scientific readings of several games in the Silent Hill franchise, using equipment to measure the freakishness (using the standard Lovecraft logarithmic scale) against the innate wackyness (as measured in kilostooges) of the content. All devices were calibrated against solitaire prior to measurements.

I think a much better approach would be to leave the origin alone and take a Martian Chronicles approach. Or even better, a Twilight Zone approach. Each game can take place in its own (undefined) time, without needing to worry about stepping on the toes of its predecessors or getting in the way of its successors. If they did that, the designers would get all the benefits of sequels (ongoing sales and loyalty) without the hassle of maintaining an increasingly large and unwieldy continuity.

The extreme subjective nature of the town already gives writers immense freedom to change the scenery, monsters, combat, mechanics, and the various rules about how the whole thing works. The origin has fulfilled its purpose and given us a malleable reality. We don’t need it anymore. Making games focused on the history of Silent Hill is like making movies about Luke Skywalker working on a moisture farm.

The other advantage of this is that that the games would be more accessible to newcomers. Silent Hill: Origins naturally excludes people who aren’t up to speed on their Silent Hill lore, which means that the potential audience can’t be anything larger than a subset of previous audiences. That’s no way to grow a franchise. By contrast, a newbie can pick up Silent Hill 2 and be able to to follow the plot without needing to jump over to Wikipedia to find out who the hell the latest NPC is and why they should care.

It’s a very simple formula:

  1. Somebody with a few skeletons in their mental closet is compelled by both internal and external forces to enter the town of Silent Hill.
  2. Things build slowly, working from mildly unsettling to profound madness.
  3. The monsters and challenges are a product of the protagonist’s own psyche, so that by seeing the monsters we indirectly learn about them.
  4. As they progress through the town, their secrets are unearthed and we learn more about who they are and why they’re so messed up.
  5. Their story culminates when they finally face their personal demons and overcome them.

I think this is a winning recipe for a game. It’s simple, it’s elegant, and it offers endless possibilities. Instead of telling us more about the cult and their baby-snatching, demon-worshiping shenanigans, each game would be a story about a person.

I don’t see why Silent Hill developers continue to make things so hard on themselves.

This is not to say I won’t end up playing Silent Hill 5 at some point. I can be counted on to faithfully purchase each new iteration and then complain about it at length. I know my banging on about the greatness of Silent Hill 2 is old. I’m like those Final Fantasy fans who play each each new version for a hundred hours and then decry it because they’re waiting for the FFVII lightning to strike again.

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20205Feeling chatty? There are 45 comments.

From the Archives:

  1. Kel'Thuzad says:

    So… if I were a newcomer, which one would I want to play?

  2. StingRay says:

    Kel,

    SH2 was really good. I don’t remember SH1 very well, but I do remember it freaked me out. If you can find it, you might as well start at the beginning, but 2 was pretty standalone (and standout), as well. I never managed to get into the others.

    A question of my own; the Silent Hill games all have multiple endings, right? I know 1 and 2 did, at least, with some pretty goofy ones in there. Is your graph based on the “standard” endings of each game, or is there a chance you stumbled on a weird one?

    For the record, I think FF3(6) was the best of the series.

  3. Fenix says:

    SH 1 was fun, but I remember opening something and getting killed because I didn’t lock the….. can’t say could be classified a a spoiler so I wont. SH 2 was the best in my opinion, but that’s everyone’s opinion so…. yeah.

    Oh and FFX was by far the best. Blitzball was fun if you invested some time in it, and the fight system was better being pure turn based and letting you see the turn lineup and how it will be affected. Plus the story was fun too.

    FFVII is for noobs!!! Let the hate begin lol.

  4. Paintmuncher says:

    Kel,
    You really should start at the beginning if possible. SH1 was great as it was probably the creepier than SH2 – by only a slim margin. And that margin is background music. There was no bg music in SH. Played at night, in a dark room, SH1 completely took over your environment. All the others offered a sort of disconnect in the use of bg music.
    SH1 will forever be my favorite of this great series.

    At one point in college, at the house I was renting, the power went off in our neighborhood. It was winter, snowing lightly, no power in the area (a high traffic downtown neighborhood in Kansas City), at the bottom of a hill, full moon in the middle of the night, wind was silent and still, and police sirens were faint in the distance. My buddy and i stood on the porch of the house, thought of Silent Hill… and promptly got spooked and went back inside. The creepiest feeling i’ve ever had. The only thing we were missing was radio static! (it was the police sirens that really did it – which, in game, wouldn’t have been the same with background music)

  5. krellen says:

    FF7 sucked.

    FF6 was the masterpiece.

    Those that think FF7 was the best generally played it first, and thus had no reference and judge it based on nostalgia.

    … Sorry, I have nothing to say about Silent Hill, but I am a Final Fantasy fan, albeit one with strange tastes (I liked 9, for instance.)

  6. The Unknown says:

    “Each game can take place in its own (undefined) time, without needing to worry about stepping on the toes of its predecessors or getting in the way of its successors. If they did that, the designers would get all the benefits of sequels (ongoing sales and loyalty) without the hassle of maintaining an increasingly large and unwieldy continuity.”

    You just perfectly encapsulated the reason why I think the Final Fantasy series is so compelling (the majority of it, anyway). =)

  7. Tizzy says:

    Kel’Thuzad: I’m not sure, but it sounds like #2 would be the best pick. It’s the only one I played, I picked it up not knowing at all what to expect, and it lives up to the praises that have been heaped on it here, and then some. I remember playing it late at night with the volume way down to avoid waking people up, and being too wired up to sleep afterwards. It’s the only game I can think off that really terrified me.

  8. pwiggi says:

    Further for the record, I second StingRay. FFVI was the best. Y’know. Whatever :P

  9. Vegedus says:

    I am amazed by the comment on Final Fantasy so far. You guys are awesome. Those who hold VII as their favorite tend to be the most fanboyish and ignorant of the pack.

  10. Kevin says:

    Either SH1 or 2 would be fine picks. The first is just plain scary, and leaves you with you eyes boring into the TV set furiously trying to see into the darkened gloom… which of course you can’t so you’re just freaked out. The second was a better story, and had you more emotionally invested in the goings on. It also had a much more satisfying ending.

    I think that 2 is still a terrific game played after 1, but I’m not certain if the reverse would be true. 2 is a bit more polished, and tension-wise sort of builds on your expectations from the first game. (Though not in terms of story.)

    (FFVIII was my fave. I still cry at the final cinemas.)

  11. I just came in to point out some spelling errors I spotted. The other’word’ you’ve prolly already spotted, but regarding that last sentence, you put in an extra ‘I’ on the roman numeral…

  12. Ambience 327 says:

    Do I make myself look really old if I admit that I have never played a Silent Hill game, but I think the original Final Fantasy was the game against which all other RPG’s should be judged?

    :)

  13. Ben Orchard says:

    Er, does anyone know where I can get FFVIII for the PC? I’d love to get hands on that…

    …cause you know.

    Oh, and VII was good, but I still think that II and III (stateside numbering) where really the best I’ve played. Not played anything after VII…not having owned a playstation every.

  14. kat says:

    Ben Orchard: I think I still have my copy of FFVIII for the PC…. I can check if you like!

  15. Richard says:

    I wanted to like FFVII, but the endless mandatory minigames did me in. I’m playing the game to adventure, not to be forced to play pointless minigames until I get them right. If you want to give me a minigame, give me the option to skip it!

  16. Yamael says:

    After reading your articles and the comments, I’ll see if I can find a copy of SH 1 or 2 to try the series, since I’ve never played them.

    And as for FF, I will stand with VI as my favorite one, for it’s scale and diversity of cast, though IV is a close second. And I think IX was awesome too :).

  17. bryce says:

    To heck with what you say, I would TOTALLY buy SKYWALKER:EXTREME VAPORATOR REPAIR!!! but Lucasarts wouldn’t make it for the PC…

  18. Illiterate says:

    FFIX was ok, just long. i got stuck at a point in ff8 (was supposed to go to some quest waypoint, couldn’t remember what it was and the instructions on getting there was one-time-only), and it occurred to me that I just wasn’t interested enough in completing.

    Hain’t played ffVI, to my knowledge. enjoyed VII immensely.

  19. For someone who has never played *any* of the FF series (except for Avatar, *wayyyy* back in the day), but is a big fan of RPGs, which one should I find/try to find and play.

  20. krellen says:

    Illiterate: FF6 was sold in the US as “Final Fantasy 3”. Final Fantasy 2 in the US was actually Final Fantasy 4, as well.

    Marcel: 6 by far has the best story. 10 has real good game-play. 4 is pretty classic, and has the bonus of the best line ever: “You spoony bard!” So I would recommend those. All will play on a PS2. Nowadays, you’ll find them all numbered the Japanese way, so you don’t have to worry about the 4/2&6/3 thing.

  21. McNutcase says:

    Final Fantasy never appealed to me. Tried VII, and between really, REALLY bad controls and the game ordering me to kill myself within the first half hour in the guise of helpful advice, I threw it down in disgust, and gave up.

  22. KarmaDoor says:

    @ Ben Orchard <a href=”http://www.shamusyoung.com/twentysidedtale/?p=1982#comment-109534″(#13) :
    Copies of Final Fantasy VIII for the PC can be found second-hand on eBay and such. As for new, the only store that had was eCrater —
    for $149.99 X-p

    As for the rest of the series:

    VII was the most all around entertaining installment for me. With the exception of the submarine one, the minigames were generally fun, though oddly placed in the story, and forgiving compared to other FFs. Best of all was that they could be replayed at a centalized location along with a few other minigames that weren’t required.

    VI was the strongest example of interactive fiction in the series as well as one of the strongest written. In that respect, it is the “epic” amongst tales. VII, while fun, unfortunately also killed the forking storyline with the weight of cinematics.

    VIII was the most daring, and I think that’s why it is so maligned. It played too strongly to the completionist fans.

    I enjoyed IX, but it was a one-time nostalgia trip, quirky characterization included. Oddly, it’s strongest point is it’s story being relatively dearth compared to other installments. It made following the plot easy enough to not have to pay attention to every last drip of dialog leaving the gameplay more apparent. The least moping lead character is a bonus.

    Kingdom Hearts rules.

    Back on topic:
    I find it interesting that the backstory of a “cult” actually strengthened another recent horror game, Eternal Darkness. It helped that it was really a struggle between connected characters which made the story cohesive, as opposed to the tale seemingly being torn apart by parallel plots in what was described. Take that with a grain of salt as I’ve never played any of the installments in the Silent Hill franchise (though I have read many people raving about SH 2.)

    Lastly, never watch the Drakengard ending cinematics at night. x_X (I’m truly thankful I had never heard of the series prior to that.)

  23. Eldiran says:

    Final Fantasy Tactics all the way. Amazing story, addictive gameplay, massive customizability/replayabilty.

    VII… the gameplay never really hooked me, so I haven’t gotten very far in it. So I’m really just waiting for the FFT lightning to strike again… because FFTA and FFTA2, relative to the original, both SUCKED. IN ALL CAPS. RRGGGHH. *suppressing endless rant*

  24. Eathanu says:

    Shamus, I can see how you would make this mistake, but Final Fantasy 9 would be FFIX =P

    Lessjussay I was not a fan of 7.

  25. Nabeshin says:

    I can say (albeit sadly) that I’ve never played any of the Silent Hill titles. I should remedy that.
    As far as the FF series go, VII was my first foray into it. At the time, it was the best game in town (no pun intended). It stays so popular because of the sheer fact that it hit at just the right time in a lot of gamers lives. As a fellow 37’er I should know (that and the fact I worked in a game store at the time-couldn’t keep VII on the shelves).
    As a result, we don’t have a FF VIII movie, although that would be interesting. I wonder if Squall would look like a post ’80s Duran Duran refugee again…
    *ahem*
    But I digress. Hate FF VII as much as you want, but you can’t deny the impact it made upon the world of RPG’s.
    As far as Advent Children goes…why in the hell did they make Cloud even MORE of a whiny bitch?!

  26. JKjoker says:

    Rinoa and the retard woman ruined ff8 for me, i actually rather liked the story until it pulled an indigo prophesy, i never liked ff9, never been a fan of wizard of OZ, ffx was ok but the chars were unlikable (yuna specially reminds me of a hybrid between Rinoa and the retard)

    story wise i think ff6 was the best one, i still remember ff7 fondly mostly because it was the very first game i played that pulled a good 3d+cg experience (i bought it with turok2 and first 3d accelerator), the PC version of ff7 was AWFUL tho, the videos looked like they were eaten, puked, then eaten again and left as half processed crap, the ending also gave me the finger, the character models suddenly became much more detailed and left me thinking wth they didnt do that with the rest of the game (and that also makes me remember the lame last battle where i killed the boss without trying : he hit cid, then cid countered with 4xSlashx9999dmg after which Cloud just cough on him and he died, thats what i get for grinding)

  27. Shamus – I really think you should just make YOUR OWN SURVIVAL HORROR GAME!

    Seriously. I would buy it in a heartbeat.

    Heck, I’ll help you code it. Or do the artwork. Or help you with the marketing. I don’t care. I just want to see it get made!

    Leslee

  28. *Deleted*

    Well, whudya know, my previous post actually DID get…uh, posted. Ahem. Anyway, no need fer this!

  29. illiterate says:

    I’ve seen ff3us. I am right up against the end of ff3jp, eventually i’ll go through the grind of finishing it.

    tactics good.

  30. Joshua says:

    Never played any of the SH games, but I didn’t much care for the movie. Great atmosphere, but poor acting and pacing. I’d love to try SH2, but I’ve already read the spoiler-full review that Shamus did.

    I played Final Fantasy VI back in High School and loved it for breaking all the ground it did, but now that I have it on the Game Boy Advance, it’s not as good as I remember. It’s still a very good game, but the focus is a bit juvenile at times, and there are too many characters, or at least too many weaker characters. I’d take 9 characters that are all good versus the 6-7 that work really well and the other half that are pretty weak(like Mog and Setzer).

    Final Fantasy VII was alright for a huge graphical improvement, but the characters never really grabbed me at all. They were *too* interchangeable, where the main difference beyond visual was whether they had a ranged attack or not. The “Limit Break” system subtly introduced in VI(as a rare fierce attack made by a desperate character about to die) was made into way too much of a focus of the VII interface, where it made no sense why you wanted enemies to beat you up so you could use your special attacks.

  31. Smileyfax says:

    Nthing the FFVI love, big-time. I’ve actually been gradually playing through the Advance version recently, and it’s even better than I remember. It also has a new translation — in Nikeah, for example, one of the waitresses at the PUB (hooray for tossing out stupid censorship!) makes a rather humorous reference to her breasts, having named them…mm, was it Tweedledum and Tweedledee? Something like that. And in Vector, when talking to the soldiers, one of them says “Poo on peace!” I love the new translation.

  32. Schmidt says:

    What if I may ask happened is SH3 that took it from just under SH2 in awesomeness and well… Hindenburg it so? I’ve played two, but never 3.

  33. Old_Geek says:

    Chronotrigger was better than all FF games. Not that there is a bad FF. Except maybe XII.

  34. Retlor says:

    I recently got hold of Silent Hill 1 again, but I can only play it in 20 minute bursts or my nerves are shot to pieces.

    As for FF, I like pretty much all of them, but then I’m a relentless fence-sitter. Story and character wise, I like IX best, but I think that Chrono Trigger does have them all beat.

  35. Arson55 says:

    I have to say that FFVII was my favorite. I still think it is my favorite game overall, in fact. I still go back and play it from time to time. Plus, I think it was the only game where I’ve ever gone through the effort of leveling to the point where I could take the extra bosses.

    FFVI was good, but I never beat it…I need to find a copy and start playing through.

    FFVIII was good (though not as good as VI or VII), but I got stuck against the last boss. I had long been a fan of Encounter None and so my levels were in the low 40’s, and my entire strategy was based around casting triple on Rinoa and hammering the enemy with meteors. The other characters just existed to lower enemies resistances and raise Rinoa (and chip in small amounts of damage). Inevitably Rinoa would get killed, and you couldn’t raise characters in that fight.

    FFT is awesome. Tactics is one of the best tile-based strategy game I’ve played. It had it’s issues: The enemies were predictably stupid (always going for kills at the expense of all else), some of the skills were vastly overpowered (Blade Grasp, Holy cast using Math Skill, ect.), and most of the major characters that joined you were too powerful to be used (unless you did want to be just untouchable). Still, a lot of fun.

    Eldiran, did you pick up The War of the Lions for PSP? It’s a re-release of FFT, with an extra character class, a handful of new special characters, a few new scenes, and a couple of multi-player modes. My friends and I didn’t really care for the new translation as it removed some of our favorite lines (like “Surrender, or die in obscurity!”), and made some odd choices when renaming some of the skills, as well as getting rid of the in-battle lines that occasionally popped up for the spells and sword arts. But other than the translation, it was pretty good even if it didn’t add anything really essential to the core game.

    And, yeah, FFTA did suck. Didn’t even try the second ne.

  36. Chris says:

    I actually think part of the problem of Silent Hill spin-off is precisely that they all try to do what you recommend. The whole “tormented purgatory of the protagonist” angle.

    Except SH 1, 3 and 4 were not about that. SH5 seems to do this and Origins makes the token attempt. SH2 is the only one that really does this or does it well.

    But all in all, I imagine it’d be simpler if all the American spin-offs just stuck to getting the plotting down pat without being silly. I don’t really expect them to pull-off a compelling narrative, because frankly, they’re not capable of it.

    So put simply, I think the cliche is that they try *too* hard to emulate SH2 when they can’t even get the basics down right.

    I also found the movie silly and illogical in a number of places. But that’s a different tangent.

  37. SolkaTruesilver says:

    Arson55: Well, once you had Leonheart, it was game over. Just always keep Squall in the limit-range of health, and he will churn up a combo with 20x 9999-hits often.

  38. Scourge says:

    And with the ability to gain leonheart on disk one was it overkill ^^

  39. froogger says:

    Shamus, I have absolutely no idea how many “kilostooges” solitaire weighs in at. Could you please convert this into Clouseau for us europeans?

    (metric, man, go metric!)

  40. Hal says:

    Count me in the camp that loved FF4 more than FF6. The latter had a decent story, but it was hindered by the flood of characters (14 in total . . . gotta catch ’em all!) who you didn’t connect much with because they only spent a moment in the spotlight. They just ended up being very one-dimensional. In the former, I really felt a strong attachment to most of the protagonists, and that sold the game for me.

    I’d comment on Silent Hill, but never played any of them.

  41. Eldiran says:

    Arson55: Yeah, that game was very easily broken in half. At times I’d screw around and see if I could defeat an entire random battle using only the protagonist. I usually could. I have to say though, because of the power insanity, Orlandu Cid puts all the other Cids to shame. He has to be one of my favorite characters in a Final Fantasy. But anyway…

    I’ve really wanted to play War of the Lions. Unfortunately I don’t own a PSP, so I’ll have to borrow it at some point. I agree with you about the translation changes; “Judgement Blade” instead of “Stasis Sword”, etc… and something tells me Ramza isn’t going to shout, “Weigraf! Don’t open that!” in the remake, and that makes me sad.

    Regardless, I have to play it, since it’ll be ungodly awesome.

    FFTA2 was undeniably better than FFTA. Unfortunately it scrapped the story even MORE — only about 20 ‘quests’ of like, the 200 (!) quests are part of the story. But yeah, it’s incredibly frustrating to see such potential ruined by some mechanical oversights and lack of writing. To the extent that I’m striving to make a better tactics game in Flash. It’s not looking too bad, except I have way too many programming assignments due to work on it… 8/

  42. OddlucK says:

    Yeah. First time commenting on anything here. Been loving what I’ve read, though.

    Anyway, after reading your raves on Silent Hill 2, I picked up a used copy and began playing through. I can’t play it for too long at a time and am only barely into it at this point. The atmosphere is just really creepy. It’s the kind of scary I wish movies could get right more often (they do from time to time, but you know…).

    As for the Final Fantasy series, I love the whole thing. But, I will say I think VI has the best story, IV the best characterization, IX the best atmosphere, V/Tactics/XI the best character customization (everyone could eventually learn to do everything, but not all at once as they could in VII and X), X the best battle style (I love ATB, but I like CTB even better), and II/VIII the best innovation on game mechanics (even if I didn’t like the Junction/stat-leveling system). And, of course, FFI was just the father of it all and still holds a great place in my heart.

    …But, that’s just me. :)

  43. John Callaghan says:

    Largely because of the formula you listed, Shamus, I decided it’d be fun to run a one-off Silent Hill RPG scenario for four players.

    It was structured enough that I could have a clear plot developing around the characters, dreamlike enough that I could move things around and make them weird when I felt that was appropriate, and the environment itself was giving the PCs strange clues as to what was going on (which was, of course, something to do with them, so they were exploring themselves). All of these elements come from SH2.

    I’d say it worked well. I went to town on the presentation too, with copious ambient music, handouts and UV light to represent the Otherworld. I even had tealights in front of each player, with one blown out each time they healed themselves (as if it were a computer game), so it become progressively darker.

    It’s a good format for one-off games, in my opinion.

  44. Stranger says:

    Oh dear, I’m going to resist the urges to throw in my long Final Fantasy games review but . . .

    My top three favorites are, in no order, FFIV (GBA version, or Chronicles), FFVI, and FFX. All had some amazing things to play with the game, and all of them had a well-tuned game engine to work with.

    My least favorites . . . well, I only have two I don’t like as much. FFII I wasn’t a BIG fan of (highly limited inventory screen) and FFVIII didn’t catch me (gameplay did NOT catch me as very enjoyable).

    I’m sorry, I will continue to stick up for the two games people love to hit hard when reviewing games: FFIX and FFXII. FFIX was a fun, if long, game . . . with some really decent minigames which were thankfully not mandatory to be any good at. FFXII was seriously rather well-crafted, in my opinion, and the localization was done extraordinarily well. I don’t understand where all the hate for it comes from, though I admit it’s not my FAVORITE GAMES OF ALL TIME.

    The spinoff series which bear Final Fantasy names, I only poked at a couple. War of the Lions is enjoyable, though some technical troubles make it a little grating. The two sequel games really were fun – FFX-2 was a game of minigames which weren’t necessary to do, but were still fun many times. Revenant Wings was fairly competent for a RTS. I have not found much interest in playing any other games of the extended series, though.

    Silent Hill? I do not play survival horror games. They get on my nerves. Though if you want survival horror, try UFO: Enemy Unknown, Snakeman Terror Mission :)

  45. Relayer71 says:

    Krellen, FFIV was far from basic. What it had was a very TIGHT story not the long, convoluted plots of FF VII & VIII.

    The writing was a bit simplistic of course, that I agree with. But the heart of the story was not. There were many moments filled with drama, comedy, suspense and it was one of the first JRPGs to have a mature plot, heck to even have what we recognize today as a real plot.

    If you have a DS you should pick up the new FFIV remake – aside from the nice 3D makeover, the new translation is EXCELLENT, seems like they hired a real writer this time. It’s more focused and the dialogue is as mature as its story now.

    Also they kept the difficulty of the original Japanese version so now it’s no longer a cakewalk (which I really hated about FF 7 – 9) and a real challenge. Also has some nifty voice acted cut scenes!

    VI was great of course but I found IV slightly better – of course I’ve replayed IV several times and recently and VI way back in 95! Got the GBA remake but haven’t played it much – time to do so after I finish IV I guess.

    Still think the best 2 (1 is too hard) are FFIV & FFX (FFXII a close 3rd). Worst 2: FFVIII and FFII.

    I liked FFIX a lot but the mechanics (way too much random combat combined with long “swoosh” animation each time) made it tedious to play through.

    But if we count FF Tactics, then that would probably be one of my favorites. FFTA was terrible, same mechanics as the original but none of the spirit. Music really made FFT as well and the soundtrack in FFTA was mediocre.

    As for Silent Hill – the 1st was a nice change of pace from the Resident Evil games and I loved that it provided its prolonged tension more from atmosphere than from waiting for cheap scares. Of course the sequel was technically superior and had a great story. Haven’t played the others.

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