Tag Archives: Games

That’s A Puzzlin’: Part 2

Puzzlin_2

In my entry last week [That’s A Puzzlin’: Part I], I chronicled a little about the curious puzzle-box that Pete and I put together for a holiday I took with a two handfuls of friends at an impromptu board games retreat out in Devon last month.

In that post, I covered the first three of the five puzzles which made up the quest; so it seems only fair to document the final two, and apply some closure to what it all led to. Let’s find out:

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Puzzle #4: Rings

The purpose of Puzzle #2 (Lovecraft) was, in essence, to lead the player’s brains to think about using the Study as a hint mechanism for future clues involving books. Pete had always wanted to put in book cipher as one of the puzzles; so, having pre-prepped a candidate book with which to hide a cipher in the form of coordinates to specific page numbers, lines and words, we dropped the envelope containing Puzzle #4 on the hallway calendar on Friday evening.

I’d already hidden a copy of J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit on the bookshelf in the study when I placed the Lovecraft code within Puzzle #2, so all the players had to do for this one was to interpret the riddle and hunt for a copy of the book – which they dutifully did after a minor amount of head-scratching. Then, using the three-number combinations, they would then need to construct a sentence (to be even more accurate, a question) using the specified coordinates; likely using a bit of trial-and-error to work out what the number combinations meant before stumbling on the correct structure: [PAGE NUMBER] [LINE NUMBER] [WORD NUMBER].

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Doing so would, eventually, translate the following trivia question, giving the solution to Puzzle #4 (and on which we had banked on our player’s Lord of the Rings knowledge to come up with the correct answer; an assumption which stuck):

HOW
MANY
RINGS
OF
POWER
WERE
GIVEN
TO
MEN
?

The answer, of course, is nine; giving the directional combination (←↑) corresponding the runic ‘H’ symbol on the original “combination lock clue page”.

Now, I haven’t (yet) explained the importance of this so, before I introduce the fifth (and final) puzzle of the game, I’ll briefly go into the meaning of it all.

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Early on, Pete and I had identified that, if we dropped the various directional combinations in order across the weekend, it wouldn’t be impossible for a brute-force method (of trying all of the combinations for the last code) to bear fruit once four-fifths of the code had been ‘unlocked’. To counter this, we aimed to drip-feed the combination parts not in order, such that the risk of brute-force entry would be minimised. To add an extra layer of puzzling to the game, the players would be given clues which associated with five directional combinations (associated with five symbols) which then would then need to work out what was linked with what.

The symbols for each would be hinted at in the form of small markings on each of the initial clue envelopes containing each puzzle: Puzzle #1 (Jigsaw) had a rudimentary London Underground symbol; Puzzle #2 (Lovecraft) was a love-heart for obvious reasons; Puzzle #3 (Pigpen) had a ‘#X’ representing the two pigpen keys; Puzzle #5 (Limes) had a five-pointed star for reasons that will be revealed in the next section; but Puzzle #4 (Rings) had a runic ‘D’ because this is the symbol which is drawn on Tolkien’s map in The Hobbit marking the secret door on the Lonely Mountain. When placed all together, they would lead to a string of directions to be entered into the padlock, eventually releasing the goodies within.

Puzzle #5: Limes

The fifth, and final puzzle, drew experience from a meme that has been orbiting our circle of friends for many years: the meme of hiding limes in each other’s houses.

This tradition kind of started at the annual party at Dan’s house (“OckFest”) whereby limes would be hidden in bizarre places in Dan’s kitchen, intending them to be uncovered while performing unrelated tasks; for example: finding a lime in the box of Crunchy Nut Corn Flakes when pouring out the morning cereal; discovering a lime hidden inside the tube of kitchen roll when reaching to mop up a spillage; hearing a lime fall out of a hollowed-out French baguette when beginning to make a sandwich.

Without wishing to blow one another’s trumpets too heavily, Pete and I are professionals when it comes to the international sport of Lime-Hiding. It was inevitable that we would initiate this tradition at The Winter Games 2017, but I forget which of us had the genius of incorporating it into the Puzzle Box game. Either way, the task for the players would be to figure out how many limes were hidden in a particular room, and then to use that number as the final directional combination.

The initial clue was provided in riddle form:

How many of I
Are plucked from the tree
And made into pie
You’ll find that’s the key

See? It’s a pun. KEY LIME PIE. Like, a key to a box that’s also a hint for the players to try and find some limes somewhere.

On each lime, we drew a five-pointed star and a number specified in Roman numerals: however, the trick was that the limes would not be numbered consecutively. Overall, four limes would be hidden, with numbers I, II, IV and VI; the twist being that, if the players simply entered ‘six limes’ as the solution, they would be incorrect. Y’see, we had circled the ‘I’ in “How many of I”, indicating that the players should not – in fact – be counting the number of limes, but instead the number of ‘i’s in the numerals written on the limes; equaling five, yielding the directional combination (↓↑).

Furthermore, the missing numerals (III and V) were simply a red herring designed to make the players hunt even harder. Yes; I know I’m a meanie.

Because our original plan to hide limes in the kitchen became untenable because of the sheer people traffic that would be present in the kitchen at any one time, we were forced to change tack to hide limes in the games room annex where it was much easier to steal away time to distribute some fruit about the place. Hence, to do this, and while deployed at #TheWinterGames, I hastily mocked up an additional sheet of paper giving a hint towards the players looking in the games room by scribbling “Want to play a game?” and including it in the envelope right before deployment.

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However, due to a simple lack of properly thinking through the implications of that phrase, we kind of didn’t realise that that’s also a quote from the movie Saw, spoken by the main antogonist, ‘Jigsaw’; causing everyone to suddenly barrel down the hallway into the Dining Room (where Puzzle #1 [Jigsaw]) was still set up, frantically searching for an answer. Secondly, everyone appeared to miss the “key lime pie” solution to the clue and instead immediately leapt to the solution of “four-and-twenty blackbirds”; since, like limes, these are also a Thing™ which can be found in a tree but also baked into a pie, according to the nursery rhyme. In retrospect, it was actually a little satisfying to have the players burrow down the wrong rabbit-hole in search of this unintentional red herring [let’s call this “Winter Games Puzzle Box Stroke of Luck #2”] but, at the time, it was immensely stressful to have to watch them struggle down a futile path and yet not be able to interfere, lest I give the game away.

However, some gentle nudging highlighted that the solution was in fact ‘limes’; at which point, several reconnaissance groups were despatched to the various rooms of the house to hunt for round, green objects. After a short while, one of the search  parties returned with four limes, and fairly swiftly cottoned on the Roman Numerals code; arriving at the answer of ‘five’.

So, our players now had everything they needed to open the box; and open the box, they did. Also: I’d love to say that I’d planned to paint the box green to match the limes, but that was simply happy coincidence.

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Puzzle #Z: Endgame

So, with great expectation and encircled by a perimeter of excited (if still confused) faces, one plucky adventurer keyed in the winning combination (↓↑↓↓↑↓←↓→←↓←↑), undid the chains and, with mild trepidation, lifted the lid of the confusing green box.

Inside was a map.

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A map of the house, with an ‘X’ marked on in big, black pen. (Which Pete and I had to scribble in on location, after we’d figured out a good place to hide the prize).

The ‘X’ on the map led the participants out to the back garden where, under the cover of darkness in the late hours of the previous night, I had wrapped the final prize booty in an old carrier bag under stone lawn roller in the approximate location of the ‘X’ marking. Following a brief period of scurrying and scouting, the booty was located by a tall, loud Spaniard and brought inside to the metaphorical sound of bugle-horns heralding the arrival of a monarch returning from a crusade.

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And so, with the ‘pop-thmph’ of the cork ejaculating from the bottle and reverberating off the living room’s wall, the adventure was over; the puzzle was solved. I’ll be honest: it was a heck of a lot of fun putting it all together and I adored the act of thinking to think laterally to come up with mysteries and conundrums that would (hopefully) confuse, but enthuse, an odd assortment of my friends.

Undoubtedly, there will be another #TheWinterGames; where Pete and I join forces to do something like this again remains to be seen. Perhaps it’d be not quite as fun if the players knew who was doing it all, but perhaps that would give us even more scope to add complexity given that – in event of them getting “stuck” – they’d be able to ask for help. I don’t know, we’ll have to see what the future brings.

Either way, it’s been mighty enjoyable recapping and documenting what happened in a wonderful house a month or so ago; and I hope it has been for you, too. Godspeed, puzzlers.

[Zinar7]

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That’s a Puzzlin’: Part 1

Puzzlin_1

Almost a month ago now, myself and thirteen other board game fanatics whisked ourselves into the wilderness a house in rural Devon to spend five days (#TheWinterGames) playing board games, chilling out and having a good time.

With the above in mind, and knowing that our cohabitants were the type(s) of people to appreciate a good mystery, my friend Pete and I hatched a plan to make a series of puzzles; beginning with a simple box locked with a directional padlock and a series of cryptic clues, that would entertain throughout the weekend.

Our initial aims of this endeavour were as follows:

  1. Make an interesting puzzle-box, treasure-hunt thing to amuse people during #TheWinterGames
  2. Have a series of puzzles, each yielding a number with which to punch into a combination lock; roughly one per day
  3. Have something interesting/rewarding to find once all the puzzles have been solved and the box has been opened

To complete the above three objectives, we proceeded to put together a spiffy wooden box, some chain and a wonderful combination lock (that you unlock using a combination of directions and which looks enthusiastically like the D-pad from a video game controller) which would serve as the booty for a treasure hunt-slash-escape room-style puzzle that would blossom over the long weekend.

After sourcing a plain, pine wood box and decorating it colourfully using some bright green ink, we had a serviceable lockbox that would mysteriously appear after everyone had arrived for the weekend and, hopefully, prove sufficiently interesting to pique their curiosity. For all of the puzzle materials (letters, envelopes, etc.) I wanted to give it an ‘aged’ feel to it to sort-of imply that it was all spooky and mysterious and done by some sort of benevolent ghost, so went to great efforts to tea-stain and crinkle the paper to make them look like aged manuscripts, and used a fountain pen (and my best joined-up, slanty-posh handwriting) to make it look old and not easily identifiable as mine. It worked.

We came up with five puzzles in total, each one of which would yield a directional code which, when all put together, would each lead to a letter or number; equating to a two- or three-digit combination of UP-DOWN-LEFT-RIGHT directions when cross-referenced on a cheat sheet (see above). Discovering the complete code and entering it into the padlock would, eventually, unlock the box and reveal its clandestine contents; but not before the previous five puzzles had been solved.

Thus, at circa 1800 on Wednesday night, the lockbox (and first clue) was deposited in the study. Game on.

M11

Puzzle #1: Jigsaw

We’d always wanted to include a jigsaw puzzle in the remit, but had some initial difficulties in figuring out how to make it lead to a single number for input into a combination lock.

While visiting family over the Christmas holidays, I stumbled upon a jigsaw puzzle of the classic (modern) London Underground map in my parents’ games cabinet and hatched an idea to have the players identify a single station on it to find the solution. The plan was to leave out a piece showing Camden Road, and then for the players to look that up on a sheet to get the right code; see below. So far, so good.

 

Except: in my eagerness to make the puzzle not quite as time-consuming as it could be, I went through the jigsaw bag removing all the blank white pieces of the jigsaw, so that only the map itself was there, and two things happened:

  1. I accidentally took out some parts of the map itself, including the whole of Leicester Square station, and
  2. When writing the list of stations with associated letters/symbols, I kind of forgot to write Camden Road, because I’m an idiot.

However, because (1) and (2) happened at the same time [let’s call this “Winter Games Puzzle Box Stroke of Luck #1”], we could change the first solution to be “Liverpool Street” (giving an ‘R’ and therefore ↓↑↓) and pretend that it was always supposed to be like that. So, taking great effort to be VERY QUIET INDEED, we snuck downstairs very early on Thursday morning while everyone was still sleeping and re-programmed the lock suck that the new code made sense. Thanks to good fortune that no-one walked in at the wrong time to find us fiddling around, I think we got away with it. Bingo.

Puzzle #2: Lovecraft

We’d kind of figured that it made sense to put the most time-intensive puzzle (the jigsaw) at the beginning, just in case it took longer than expected for the players to finish it; from which point we could drip-feed the following, smaller, puzzles which would be less mandraulic to solve. In reality, we needn’t have worried at all, because the keen-fingers badgers had smashed it out before the end of the first night.

So, with that in mind, the next puzzle was dropped mid-morning on Thursday, where an envelope bearing a love-heart was left on the mantelpiece of the sitting room. In contrast to the speed at which the jigsaw was complete, the envelope sat above a wooden love-heart dangling in the fireplace and which NO-ONE SPOTTED for TWO WHOLE HOURS, despite Pete even setting up a Nerf gun target range trying to pew-pew at the dangling heart immediately below it.

When it was finally discoverd, the players found a riddle, in French, thus:

P21

Dans le Salle de Dessin,
La clé que vous trouverez,
Ou l’Ombre Jette,
Dans le Métier d’Amour

Loosely translated (I used Google Translate, so don’t judge me), this says:

In the Drawing-Room,
The key you will find,
Where the Shadow is Cast
In the Craft of Love

Earlier that morning (whilst also re-programming the padlock code), I’d planted a copy of H.P. Lovecraft’s The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories on the bookshelf in the Study, in amongst a bunch of other books belonging to the house. In essence, the clue aimed to lead the players to the drawing-room, and find where a shadow is cast in the Craft of Love – i.e., find a Lovecraft book on the shelf and turn to the chapter for The Shadow Over Innsmouth; one of the most famous Lovecraft stories and which we banked on at least some of the players knowing.

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After some brain-racking and some book-searching, the players eventually deciphered the clue and found the book; identifying a little ‘26’ mark at the bottom of the first page of The Shadow Over Innsmouth and giving them the direction key ↓←↓. With that, Puzzle #2 was complete.

Puzzle #3: Pigpen

I always wanted to weave in a traditional cipher into the puzzle series, and Pete liked the idea of having an “X Marks The Spot”-type puzzle with a treasure hunt inside the house, so we opted to combine the two:

Having found the blueprints for the house on the interwebs, we tried to figure out a clever place to hide something and lead to with a map. Realising that the Study and the Apple Store bedroom were identical and size and shape, this seemed a logical place to roughly sketch a room and get players to figure out a) which one it is, and b) to search inside it for the next clue.

The clue they had to find was a small, square envelope on which a “#X” was drawn on the front, matching one on the map sketch. Once found, they would open it to find a pigpen alphabet key, and a series of symbols which they must decode. The “clever” bit [note: author’s inverted commas] was making the code upside-down, meaning that the players would have to rotate the code by 180 degrees and then translate it, else it would not make sense if translated directly. To hint at this, I drew a little rotate-y arrow and a line, which had the added bonus of players thinking that they had to translate the code’s mirrored reflection instead of rotating it by π radians. I love red herrings.

Anyway; translate it correctly, and the players would reveal the solution:

X M A R K S T H E S P O T

giving ‘X’ (←↓) as the solution, and Puzzle #3 complete.

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And with that, and because I’m all out of words for one week, I will leave the second half of the story ’til Part 2, which I’ll post in a weeks’ time. All that’s left to say is: good puzzlin’, y’all.

[Zinar7]

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Close Encounters

CloseEncounters

DISCLAIMER: What is documented in this article represents a summary of all that transpired at the recent Little Woooden Houses presents Watch the Skies! (which took place on 06/06/15 in Aston Tirrold, Oxfordshire [UK]); told from the perspective of one of the Alien players.

It is published in the form of a semi-fictional battle report; hoping to provide some entertainment as well as semi-accurate documentary of what transpired up on the Aliens’ balcony.

If you are planning on playing the megagame of Watch the Skies! at any point in the future, then I would recommend refraining from reading this – and any related posts –, as it is possible that some clues as to the (clandestine) operation of the Aliens may be inadvertently revealed through the telling of this fictional short story.

Otherwise, I hope you enjoy this semi-fictional account of LWHpWTS! and all that it brought. Godspeed!

Intercepted communications, bound for Zeta Reticuli.

Intercepted communications, bound for Zeta Reticuli.

 

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PRAISE ZETA RECULI

To: Great Minds [Alpha], [Beta] and [Gamma]
From: Commander <xx.zx/A2>, Alien Conclave One.

Dear Great Minds,

The programme of Earth Crisis Intervention [ECI] was initiated, as planned, on the first diurnal cycle of the Earth year 2020. Expeditionary ships from Moon bases Alpha and Beta, consisting of abduction agents and a number of decoy (hologram) shuttles, were despatched to Earth Targets 1-4 (“Angola”, “Antartica”, “Arabia” and “Australia”) and to establish a greater understanding of the local flora, fauna and intelligent life on Earth.

Our agents were instructed to limit operations to isolated areas of Earth, and to ensure the safe return of any life samples following the preliminary (intrusive) physical examinations. These endeavours were proceeded on the basis that our incursion would be broadly unopposed, and that the relative scale of the landing target countries would allow our teams a greater opportunity to land unnoticed at their target destinations of scientific interest. Henceforth, extraction units were despatched to major landmasses in Earth’s southern hemisphere for collection of plant and animalian DNA for delivery to our Earth Research Laboratories on Moon bases Alpha & Beta.

As soon as our scout ships were deployed, a high level of resistance was encountered from a number of the observed Earth divisions of Gene Splice XII bipeds [designated ‘Humans’], with multiple military factions responding with airborne interceptors and movement of ground troops. Many of these interceptions were successful in eliminating, or rallying, our – peaceful – expeditionary force; however, a small number of extraction units were successful in their mission, and landing successfully in their target areas. A number of life samples and rare Earth metals were extracted and transported to Moon Base Alpha for scientific study, as well as a small quantity of rare Human artefacts and technologies which were despatched by hyper-shuttle to the Great Library on Zeta Reticuli for Cultural Curation.

Captured Human foodstuffs, revealing liittle or no nutritional value for Reticulan needs.

Captured Human foodstuffs, revealing liittle or no nutritional value for Reticulan needs.

From the outset of the programme, it was universally agreed by all nine Reticulan Select Commanders that our command structure should form one, single, unified mind-unit aimed at locating efficient resolution to the Earth Crisis. In the spirit of true Reticulan values of peacefulness, pacifism and co-operative thinking, Conclaves One to Three formed coalition of expertise; effectively deploying our great Reticulan power of Mind-Meld.

The initial phase of the initiative was pre-planned to be a two-forked strategy of “passive offense”: firstly, to instil an effective operation mild terror and panic among the Human herds such that they would descend to outright madness among themselves; supported by B) a programme of capture of Human and animal DNA to progress with our primary ‘solution’ to “The Earth Crisis”: that of genetically engineering (“geneering”) the human populace towards pacifism and calm.

Our early phase of the conquest focussed on extraction of DNA samples from mammalian subjects that were returned, unharmed, back to Earth. Research programmes on all three bases (Moon bases Alpha and Beta, and the primary Cydonia base on Mars) were steered towards projects associated with eradicating the virus-like Human genomes responsible for destruction and betrayment, and instilling civility and compassion to their pre-developed minds. An additional, secondary, scientific programme of sample return and delivery of exploitative Earth materials to Zeta Reticuli, which appeared to show considerable success in further understanding the nature of the Earth rock and its current occupants.

It became clear, though, that Humanity was intensely suspicious of our activities; being inherently paranoid about sightings of our ships at various airspace incursions across the Sphere. Before it was possible to capture Human communication equipment and relay broadcasts of our non-threatening activities in Earth airspace, acute hostility against our presence (both in orbit and on ground) was experienced. The Select Commanders of the Earth Crisis force were deeply saddened to have our fears (of Humanity being a mistrustful and traitorous society, hell-bent on turning to violence at unnerving rapidity) proved so distressingly correct.

Following the hostile first contact experienced in the preliminary phase of the initiative, our commanders were forced to maintain a DEEP-Thinking (Direct Extrasensory Engagement Procedure) communication panel throughout the Initiative in order to effectively utilise our species’ superior grasp of collective consciousness. Efforts were made to demonstrate our peaceful presence on Earth – from our gifts of traditional Reticulan food cubes to the nation of “Japan” (which, we understand, shows great similarity to their energy source known as “Soo-Shee”), to our repeated communications to almost all nations throughout the period encouraging peaceful operations.

Reticulan food cubes, presented as gifts to the combined Human nations.

Reticulan food cubes, presented as gifts to the combined Human nations.

As our primary geneering mission demanded constant supply of abduction subjects and/or DNA samples, our Select Conclave Commanders came to agreement to sacrifice minor aspects of our advanced Reticulan technology and resources (including the highly-sought after Red Mercury) with select Earth colonies, in order to establish a routine supply of prime Human samples for our geneering research programmes. While these tradings were not explicitly sanctioned by the Great Minds before departure of the ECI force from Zeta Reticuli, the Select Commanders arrived at unanimous decision to commence communications with key Human elements; the aim, to encourage Reticulan values of pacifism and agreement through direct engagement with certain members of the Earth conglomerate.

Private communications were transmitted to a number of host colonies; however, it became apparent that our transmissions were being intercepted by one or more nations and either undelivered; or delivered to their recipients in modified form, portraying us to have different intentions for Earth. For these actions we suspect the nation of “Japan”, who appeared to demonstrate considerable enmity to our sub-galactic intrusion.

The Select Commanders observed intense mistrust from the combined Earth colonies regarding our visible actions of civility; suspecting, instead, a programme of subterfuge distracting from a militarised coup of their blue planet. However, targeted communication and infiltration of a number of minority nations showed a considerable success; particularly in the famine-filled landmass of “Africa”. Efforts to develop a local Reticulan facility on Earth were assisted by the political and military leaders of the inter-oceanic colony of “Madagascar”, where our infiltration agents had observed significant success over the preceding Earth demi-year.

Following our preliminary expedition to Southern Hemisphere landing sites, our research on animalian samples revealed breakthroughs in the DNA geneering required to make Earth life flourish; a science that was delivered to the puppeteered political leaders of “Madagascar” as a gesture of goodwill in return for building a permanent station within their territory. A series of Infiltration agents aided in convincing dissentive voices and quashing political resistance. Our efforts in this vein were prosperous, and an underground Infiltration facility and landing zone was put into operation, from which Agents were deployed across the territory of “Africa” using their modified sub-orbital personal shuttles to infiltrate neighbouring colonies.

Human resistance was intense across both the “Africa” and “South America” landmasses.

With a fully-operational scientific research facility functioning at 100% capacity, the primary goals of PHASE ONE of the Earth Crisis Initiative were considered finalised and preparations for PHASE TWO were swiftly assembled among the Select Commanders.  The Humans appeared confused by our interest in “Madagascar”; being unaware that a peaceful ground station and scientific facility had been constructed and, instead, assuming a far more aggressive incursion. Spies from all primary Earth nations were despatched to investigate our operations there, although our cloaking technologies and convincing puppeteering of local officials of “Madagascar” succeeded (with a success rate of 83.71%) in directing attention from our geneering research activities on the island.

However, a number of Human spies – dressed in the traditional Reticulan clothing of black-and-red robes, grey overwear and breathing-masks – were able to bypass our grunt security and access the facility; in the process, conducting minor sabotage operations and theft of key Reticulan technology. All guard units responsible for the breach of security were immediately transported back to the primary Cydonia ECI headquarters on Mars for re-instruction and “re-deployment”, and all electronic and physical weaknesses were re-assigned with doubled security measures. Despite this, the attacks continued.

To further promote our image of peace, and to display of our advancements in science such that the Humans may be convinced of our non-threatening envoy, our PR divisions devised a convincing promotional montage of the prosperity now inherent across “Madagascar”. In tandem with an Infiltration raid on the streets of “Paris” (in which an elite strike agent succeeded in obtaining temporary acquisition of the media barracks of Reuters/Global News Network in the primary conurbation of the “France” territory of the Northern Hemisphere), a moving picture transmission was broadcast globally; depicting “Madagascar” as a rich, famine-free nation of prospering fauna, Humanitarian aid and hoverbikes. The Humans appeared to show considerable interest in Reticulan hoverbike technology from both a scientific and commercial interest, and intense radio chatter was intercepted which discussed ravenous Human excitement at obtaining such fantastic science.

However, the Human condition is one of suspicion and mistrust (escalating to outright betrayal) and it was, at this time, that extreme hostility was experienced arising from the slanderous nation of “France”; perhaps, in response to our operations within their garlic-smelling colony. Military forces from “France” appeared extremely interested in our activities, leading the charge to intercept any and all of our landing or transport craft, whatever their mission; peaceful or otherwise. Other forces in the Northern Earth hemisphere also displayed considerable aggression towards the presence of our ships in Earthian airspace, despite our efforts to limit extraction activities to Earth territories far from the jurisdiction of the G8 Conclave of Nations. As we understand it, the Humans became suspicious that we were building an Ark for extraction of their endangered, or protected wildlife within the “Madagascar” facility.

A Human impression of the so-called "Grey Ark" being constructed by Reticulan operatives on "Madagascar".

A Human impression of the so-called “Grey Ark” being constructed by Reticulan operatives on “Madagascar”. [http://maronski.deviantart.com/]

Early in PHASE TWO of the ECI, a full-scale invasion of our “Madagascar” base was processed by a united Human coalition; led, we are to believe, by military units belonging to this, so-called, “France”. Our facility was breached from multiple entry-points, converging on our main research facility with the apparent aim of halting our scientific geneering of “Madagascar”-based fauna and animal life. During the breach, the Human forces were successful in disabling our escape ships, as well as effectively destroying our nutritional supplies and Reticulan culture-chambers. The last communication we received from the Local Commander before transmissions ceased was a single-line radio message, repeated over and over: “Of course. Of course. Of course.” We mourn for the demise of the brave Reticulan operators who perished during the assault.

With an apparently-united Human front leaving us decimated upon the planet’s surface, we were forced to re-evaluate our position regarding the Earth Crisis. In the face of advanced hostility towards our presence (despite no hostile manoeuvres on our part – it is believed that inter-nation conflicts and espionage were incorrectly attributed to our presence rather than subterfuge on behalf of the treacherous nations of the “United States”, “France” and “Japan”), a simultaneous strategy of terror and extraction was defined and motioned by the Select Commanders. Simultaneously, consultation of Great Mind Alpha was initiated in the second half of the programme: reinforcement troops were despatched from Zeta Reticuli by unanimous agreement among the Great Minds, on the basis that our initial efforts to tackle the Earth Crisis were showing significant signs of success, despite some resistance.

Evidence seized of Human attempts to reverse-engineer Reticulan propulsive technology.

Evidence seized of Human attempts to reverse-engineer Reticulan propulsive technology.

Reinforcement units were deployed, at great cost to our remaining stocks of Resource Discs, across a number of sites in the Northern Hemisphere. Psy-Ops teams were positioned in target metropoli in partnership with infiltration and espionage using our elite agents, deploying a range of psychotropic drugs and steroids to directly influence the minds of the population. Coincidentally, and unbeknownst to us, the Humans had partially agreed a ceasefire with respect to landing craft, in response to our global radio broadcast expressing our deep disappointment at the outright conflict aimed at us in the preceding Earth Quarter-Year. Our terror attacks were extremely successful in significantly elevating the level of Global Terror to unprecedented levels; our aim, to spread mistrust among the primary Northern Hemisphere factions and to generate inter-nation conflict such that their focus would remain internal to the Earth solar system, and not on the broad expanses of peace and political civility existing in the Reticulan Galactic Sphere.

During the terror strikes, a successful threat operation of the “United Kingdom” helped to inspired a national panic which succeeded in psychologically damaging the moral fibre of the populace – our terror agents planted convincing seeds of doubt in the leading minds of the nation; alluding to Extra-Terrestrial eggs being lain across the countryside, waiting to ‘hatch’ and deliver physical and chemical harm to the terrafirm. Furthermore, a Human female spy from the “United States” conclave was intercepted and smuggled to Moon base Beta aboard a Heavy Shuttle to be questioned and probed by the combined Select Commanders stationed at Beta. Such an asset was interpreted as a significant resource for facilitating Human-Reticulan discussions, as well as an opportunity to progress our geneering technologies focussed on creating Hyper-Pacifistic Human sleeper drones using our high-Reticulan science of biotechnological implantation.

Not wishing to openly reveal the existence of our species to the Human populace, information about our existence among the sentient Earth lifeforms was kept tightly-controlled. Instead, our policy was one of coercion: to covertly instil our vision of peace such that it would be assimilated by the unified inhabitants of Earth. However, despite our initial Paris incursion and continuing Infiltration attempts, it appears that efforts to position puppeteer agents within the GNN – to subvert and scatter the Human populace through their exposure to disturbing and incorrect factual information – showed limited, long-term success.

However, during a broadband global announcement broadcast, the “United States” colony formally acknowledged the existence of [our] Extra-Terrestrial activities on Earth; rather unsettlingly referring to the entire Reticulan species as “The Gray Menace” and alluding to our existence as hostile enemies.

Mass-produced, hard-copy communications produced by the Humans, formally acknowledging Reticulan presence on Earth.

Mass-produced, hard-copy communications produced by the Humans, formally acknowledging Reticulan presence on Earth.

Such outright discussion appeared to unite the Humans more strongly together against us, and our efforts to pierce the coalition displayed outright failure. In response, a Mind-Meld between the Select Commanders resulted in unanimous decision to focus on one key nation of the G8 conclave who had shown minimal hostility to our presence: that of the “Brazil” colony. In the psyche of the democratic heads of the “Brazil” conclave, we found a vision of Earth close to that of true Reticulan ideals; demonstrating a sense of Universe-wide peacefulness and cooperation that appeared absent from hostile, splintered and conflict-focussed attitude of the other primary Earth factions. Initial efforts at establishing a private communication channels were positive, and an effective dialogue was constructed which would eventually show significant results.

Whilst direct alliance with any individual Humans (or governmental Human sects) was not condoned directly by the Great Minds during the initial ECI planning committee, the infrastructure heading the “Brazil” regime demonstrated sufficient enmity towards all species (both Human and Reticulan; along with the myriad other lifeforms existent on Planet Earth) that the Select Commanders elected to covertly encourage its primary leaders further towards Reticulan ideals, such that these attitudes may spread throughout the rest of homo sapiens. Our primary mission, in this respect, was to establish a routine supply of Human and animalian test subjects to ensure the success of the Geneering solution to the Earth Crisis: all of which would, of course, be returned unharmed (aside from some minor genetic and biotechnological enhancements) back to Earth soil.

Reticulan shuttle operations observed over  "Europe", as observed by Human picture-box.

Reticulan shuttle operations observed over “Europe”, as observed by Human picture-box.

The governmental conclave of “Brazil” demonstrated acceptable Reticulan principles throughout in the exchange, which concluded an with agreement for continual delivery of four-limbed Earth beasts to be Moon bases Alpha and Beta, to fuel our Gene Splice XII research programmes (although, it was necessary to disguise these programmes from the Humans; instead, convincing them that our research was associated with ‘Bovine Enhancement’ to solve the dual Human problems of famine and climate change. In exchange for this resource supply, an agreement to enhance key units of the “Brazil” military column with biotechnological implants was delivered upon which, unbeknownst to the Humans, would not enhance their battle abilities but – instead – accelerate the units’ personalities towards that of pacifism and diplomacy. Our perception of “Brazil” as a pseudo-Reticulan ally on Earth eventually escalated to a successful diplomatic meeting on Moon Base Alpha, where the Lead Minister of the “Brazil” faction was provided with a guided tour (making sure not to reveal our more sensitive research facilities and barracks) of our so-called “Bovine Analysis and Research Facility” [BARF].

It must be emphasised that our entanglements with Human subjects were, at all times, maintained with a stoic Reticulan vision. Any concerns of the united Great Minds that our involvement in Earth’s matters was in any way reflective of a softening of the Select Commanders’ Reticulan principles, or of Human sympathisation, should be resisted.

In spite of the great work of the “Brazil” initiative in undermining the Human genetic leanings towards conflict and treachery, attempts at creating disorder among the united Earth factions were nullified by the continued resistance experienced in the Northern Half-Sphere. With unanimous approval of the Great Minds, the Great Reticulan Orbital Mind-Laser (which was deployed with such efficiency in our last campaign on Threxil IV) was despatched with immediacy from the Cydonia Mars base and placed in a highly-elliptical diurnal orbit around Earth. At 0100 (local time) over the densely-populated landmass known as “Europe”, the Laser was activated; targeting a number of key metropolis in the nations designated “Spain”, “Italy” and “Germany” and instilled a vast disorder among the local populace. Reports of extreme psychological unease were intercepted from a variety of these conclaves where intense, riotous panic was observed due to terror of a perceived insectoid plague. Minor unrest was seen to spread to neighbouring nations, adding to a rise in Global Terror and minor tension among the major states in the upper half-sphere.

Humans discuss global conflict matters. Discussing global conflict matters requires huge stocks of biscuits, apparently.

Humans discuss global conflict matters. Discussing global conflict matters requires biscuits, apparently.

At this time, the genetic modifications imposed on the captured agent from the “United States” were finalised, and our efforts to geneer a perfect Hyper-Pacifist agent were completed to the satisfaction requirements of our science personnel. The operative was returned to a Human ambassador from the “Brazil” conclave during a diplomatic exchange on the Earth landmass of “Antartica” under the illusion that the operative had undergone considerable, invasive biotechnological enhancement to improve battle capabilities. To exploit this progress towards Gene Space XII Hyper-Pacifism subjects, a programme of pacifistic-branch Human breeding (using a two samples acquired from the “Brazil” initiative) was commenced which, it was hoped, would allow more control of the populace via highly-geneered, rapid-growth Human sleeper agents deployed among key personnel. While this particular project did not see full completion during the extent of the ECI campaign, the Great Minds should regard the significant advance[s] in this field as an encouraging preliminary experiment which would likely form a strong core of any future engagement with the Humans of Earth.

In the face of the pre-planned withdrawal of ECI units and the Select Commanders in Earth year 2023 should a resolution to the Earth crisis not be found, efforts in all areas were escalated in order to conclude the campaign in our favour. With continuing difficulties in completing our goals according to spread of terror and/or infiltration of local governments (the ‘Terror’ and ‘Puppeteer’ Policies), our final opportunity for a timely resolution was to divert all resources towards the Gene Splice XII project and enact the ‘Geneering’ Policy; genetically modifying the entire Human populace towards more peaceful enterprises than petty conflict and treachery, and reducing their capabilities (and desires) towards exploring the rest of Galactic Space.

Poor-quality image transmitted to Conclave One from "Russia", identifying the captured Commander.

Poor-quality image transmitted to Conclave One from “Russia”, revealing identity of the captured Commander unit from Moon base Alpha.

All research facilities were programmed to operate at maximum capacity, using the remaining supply of gene samples and those subsidiary specimens collected from the cooperative “Brazil” science conclave. However, it was during a penultimate incursion into Earth airspace (as part of a targeted specimen harvest led by elite infiltration commanders) that a Light Shuttle was downed in an isolated area of the Northern Hemisphere – of the Human designation “Siberia” – and the head agent (itself, one of the Select Commanders who personally undertook escort with the team) received into custody by military officials from the “Russia” territory. Communications, offering a trade for the intercepted Commander in return for resources and intelligence, were received in Radio Frequency form (and arising, our defence analysts were able to verify, from the ice-crusted colony designated “Moscow”) with immediacy and displaying a convincing promise of honour.

With the prospect of full withdrawal of all Reticulan units from the Earth system within the remaining Earth quarter-year should a secure resolution to the Earth Crisis not be enacted, the remaining Select Commanders were unanimous agreement to extract all remaining Reticulan operatives from Earth space, leaving no Reticulan behind. As such, a full exchange was initiated with the “Russia” leadership, and all seized units were immediately escorted to Moon base Alpha). With the sacrifice of significant Resource Points diverted to the re-patriation of our captured Select Commander, operational efficiency of our research facilities was compromised. It was discovered, during the final cycle preceding the end of the campaign, that our remaining key research projects (focussing on both bovine and Human subjects) had become infected with the harmful effects of a reactor leak. The results of all projects were lost, scuppering our remaining hopes to ensure the completion of the Gene Splice XII programme within the timeframe of the campaign.

Despite the eventual failure of the Geneering Policy in solving the Earth Crisis, the Select Commanders wish to commend the crucial efforts of the Reticulan Science Facility for the valuable genetic research on Earth-based lifeforms which, while not bringing an explicit solution to the Human problem, have vastly improved our species’ understanding of the Human condition and lay down the basis for future endeavours enacted by the Great Minds and the Larger Reticulan Council. Whilst the ECI task force displayed an honourable failure in bringing a resolution to the Earth Crisis, the Select Commanders wish to emphasise the success of the experiment in validating the need for interference in the matters of Humanity; especially from the perspective of Galactic peace and civility.

Puny humans gather to listen to another strategic report regarding the current global situation. Look at their miserable, puny faces.

Puny humans gather to listen to another strategic report regarding the current global situation. Look at their miserable, puny faces.

As Reticulan units prepared to withdraw from Earth and tactically destroy all operational compounds on Mars and Earth’s Moon, Humanity demonstrated the exact behaviour we had feared: with the final military and political resolution phase of our incursion in Earth’s skies, “China” and the “United States” progressed to outright conflict with our terrestrial allies; using heavy, atomic missile systems to terraform much of the “Brazil” territory. Almost in tandem, it was discovered that the Select Commander recovered from the deceitful “Russia” organisation had been, akin to our own -technological developments, been modified at a genetic level; making him a bio-organic weapon levelled directly at infecting our Moon base Alpha and obliterating one-third of our ECI defence force.

Our greatest fears were proved distressingly correct: Humanity is not yet ready to join the Galactic Alliance and it is, with significant displeasure and regret, that we must report the full withdrawal of all Reticulan ground- and air-units following unsuccessful resolution to the Earth crisis. Humanity is a corrosive bight that will, if unchecked, infect Galactic Space with its primitive attitudes to conflict, order and civilisation.

As this transmission reaches you, all Reticulan ships are in transit to Zeta Reticuli for debrief, decontamination and decommission of the Earth Crisis Initiative. We must prepare for invasion: it may take Humanity two Earth-years or two-hundred, but make no mistake; they will come, and – even in the face of unrelenting civility – they will destroy. All we can hope is that, before that time, they destroy each other first.

Be ever watchful.

Until our next meeting, ALL HAIL THE GREAT MINDS.

[xx.zx/A2]

Let us return to the stars. There is nothing for us here. [http://magicland70.deviantart.com/]

Let us return to the stars. There is nothing for us here.
[http://magicland70.deviantart.com/]

Divider

 

All in all, I had an awesome time at Little Wooden Houses presents Watch the Skies!. In terms of running a full-scale, all-day event, the combined efforts of Mac and Charlie (as well as the rest of the ‘control’ team and helpers behind-the-scenes) were monumental: both deserve a massive, massive, round of applause.

The game itself was unique, engaging and – most importantly – a whole bunch of fun. Without the passion of the LWH organisation team, as well as all the Human and Alien players, it wouldn’t have felt anywhere near as enjoyable as it did so, in reality, everyone deserves a mega round of applause. *claps*

Here’s a short timelapse I made of the game’s setup and first couple of turns, as observed from Aliens’ balcony. Well done to everyone!

Also, following here are a bunch of other reports of the day from the perspectives of Game Control, a GNN journalist and the Russia Minister of Defence, respectively. Hopefully, with this (in retrospect, ill-advised) undertaking to orbit a fictional narrative around the happenings of the Little Wooden Houses game of Watch the Skies!, I can add in some minor way to the overwhelmingly positive experiences of the day; and perhaps raise a chuckle along the way. With that, I must now sign off.

Watch the skies, always.

[Zinar7]

 

[Additional Reports] ~

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Crystal Chronicles

CrystalChronicles

I’m going on a quest.

A quest to play through all of the Final Fantasy main series, in order.

All of them. In order.

Why? Well, for a start, I’ve only really, properly played Final Fantasy VII, VIII and X (even if I have dabbled in III and IX along the way). For a person that claims JRPG to be their almost-favourite genre, that’s sort of embarrassing. So yeah, recently, I booted up my copy of Final Fantasy (the PlayStation port of the SNES version) to prepare my four Warriors of Light for my opening assault on the series. I’m calling this quest #FinalOdyssey, which – hopefully – will last longer than my New Year’s resolution to play more point-and-click adventure games (which kind of didn’t really happen, did it?­). Also, it gives me a perfect excuse to listen to a whole bunch of The Black Mages material, which is never a bad thing.

The Final Fantasy series is often seen as one of those untouchable, unquestionable serieseses, but is it entirely justified? It’s certainly not without its flaws, and (perhaps with respect with the most recent iterations of the series) there are far more qualified rivals that populate the JRPG arena these days: the likes of Xenoblade Chronicles, Persona/Shin Megami Tensei and the Tales series leap to mind. In fact, on reflection, I’ve played more Dragon Quest [aka. Dragon Warrior; FF’s long-term rival and now sibling in the Square-Enix catalogue) games than I have actual, proper Final Fantasy games. Final Fantasy VII still remains probably my favourite game of all time, though, and – graphical niggles aside – it still holds up in both storyline and gameplay in spite of its eighteen-year frame.

So, seeing as I’ve only touched the series at certain, key tangents, it makes sense for me to properly appreciate everything Final Fantasy; beginning with the main series, I-XIII. Of course, now that the ‘no sequels’ rule has been well and truly broken, this means that I’ve fourteen (I, II, III, IV, V, VI, VII, VIII, IX, X, X-2, XII, XIII, XIII-2, XIII-3: Lightning Returns) games to play before I die or the world comes to a premature end [whichever arrives first]. Also, there’s also a bunch of the FF spinoffs to look at – the Crystal Chronicles series, in particular, is vastly underrated and (perhaps) deserving of a more favourable appraisal – and, maybe, I’ll get round to them afterwards.

I’m not particularly in a rush to marathon my way through all of the main FF series in a row; more that I’ll play one, take a break, play another, etc.  Fr’instance, I’ve just started hammering through The Bureau: X-Com Declassified in preparation for similar things going on at Watch the Skies! on the weekend (and which I alluded to in last week’s Friday blog), so there’s that. But yeah, games.

XCOM

So, what else have I been playing?

Well, I recently got very, very excited about Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective, which is a semi-board game (hey, it’s got a BoardGameGeek listing so it counts) based upon 1-8 people playing as members of the “Baker Street Irregulars” to solve ten fictional cases. It’s more of an interactive novel than a board game, not least because there’s no ‘board’ as such; just a casebook, an address directory and a map of Holmes’ London. And you know what? It’s awesome fun.

Each case begins with an introduction and background to the crime – usually a murder, with some starting information and a few (obvious) leads to chase up. Then, as a group, players follow leads by deciding on a relevant location to investigate or witness to question; look up their location in the directory, and turn to the relevant casebook page to follow up the lead (which may give extra clues, confirm a suspect’s alibi, or provide no information at all). The team continue following leads, gathering data and evidence, until they have enough to report back to Holmes with a ‘confirmed’ suspect and answers to the CHECKSUM question that Holmes will pose.

Of course, at heart, it’s a deductive game; but one that’s unlike any other game I’ve ever played. It’s got more in common with a Choose Your Own Adventure book; except you’re not limited to the options of “Turn to Page 45 / Turn to Page 32” but have almost complete freedom to follow up any lead at any time and to draw your own conclusions (perhaps, in the process, accusing the wrong suspect). To draw video game analogies, where the likes of Choose Your Own… are like on-rails shooters, Consulting Detective is like a fully-3D FPS. It’s most fun with a group of 5-6 participants, and is presented in the form of a ‘story’ – following a lead in the casebook reveals a story that must be read out to the other investigators; which may be helpful, may reveal nothing new, or which may send you on a merry trail yielding nothing revolutionary at the end.

Moriarty

Despite the sheer amount that I’m enjoying it, I am a little apprehensive that there will, at some point, come a time when we run out of cases to play. On that day, I will be a bit sad.

Oh well, not to worry; because someone is already working on a Cthulhu-themed version of Consulting Detective, by the name of Arkham Investigator. And it looks badass. You can get the first two cases as Print-n-Play versions already, but it looks like there might eventually be 8 cases, and also that the game might get a proper, printed release at some point. Either way, go and check it out because why the hell wouldn’t you.

[While we’re on the subject, how awesome would a Commander Vimes: Watch Detective be? Whilst I was poking around the internet for Consulting Detective­-alike games, I stumbled across {mistery.io} and I’m rather tempted to make a few Discworld stories, just for my own amusement.]

Anyway, so yeah; that’s what I’ve been up to. What have you been playing recently?

[Zinar7]

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Grey Matters

GreyMatters In a little over a week’s time, on Saturday 6th June, I’ll be part of a terrifyingly efficient extra-terrestrial mission of <REDACTED> to colonise/diplomatise/annexe/annihilate [*delete as applicable] Earth, on behalf of Alien Conclave One. I’ll be doing this from the comfort of a comfy-ish chair in a mezzanine balcony overlooking a small village hall in South Oxfordshire. Yes, you heard that right. I’ll be participating in a thing called “Little Wooden Houses presents Watch the Skies!”, and Watch The Skies! is what is known as a megagame. WTS_1 Watch the Skies! (hereafter WTS!) is a megagame designed by Megagame Makers, and playable by 50-60 people who’re involved in defending Earth from an invasive alien threat; taking place over the course of ~8 real-time hours, and three in-game years (2020 to 2022). Now, I’m not expecting anyone to really know what that actually means, so I’ll explain: a megagame is part-board game, part- role-playing game, part- live-action role-play event that takes place over the course of the best part of a day, and involves upwards of fifty people engaging together in a gigantic, united struggle and/or storyline with multiple, overlapping game elements and having a good time. For this game, the Little Wooden Houses people are running their own edition of WTS!: on one side, there’ll be 40 or so Human players, divided up into teams of four representing the major nations of Earth (the US, Russia, Great Britain, China, etc.), as well as players representing ‘neutral’ organisations like Earth’s media; all working together to counter the alien threat, while at the same time trying to meet their own, secret national objectives and further their own ends. On the other side, a semi-united Alien front is made up of three Alien teams (“conclaves”) that have their own, mysterious plans for Earth which may involve peace, abduction, obliteration; or all of the above. I’m going to be one of the Aliens perched up in the mezzanine gallery overlooking the main game area in our village hall global conflict-space, and I’m super excited about it. AliensGuy The ‘game’, in essence, is therefore formed of [Human] players role-playing as diplomatic leaders, military strategists and scientific researchers (each team has a Head of State, a Foreign Minister, a Chief of Defence and a Chief of Science) and carrying out their own tasks/agendas whilst, along the way, global strategy is played out a bit like a board game; uncovering the ‘fun’ through Human players work out how to deal with the diplomatic situation of Extra-Terrestrials making contact with Earth. As of last week, players’ roles and nations have all been designated (and their pre-game preparation packs sent out), so it’s encouraged that Human players get into the spirit of the game and dress up as their national stereotypes and fully role-play as their governmental roles. The Human teams must learn about the Alien’s movements, establish communication channels and defend Earth’s airspace if necessary; perhaps, in the process, stealing (or bartering for) Alien technology to sell to big corporations, improve defences or bolster Earth’s offensive capabilities. The Humans will, of course, also need to deal with the standard terrestrial crises and inter-nation conflicts which might get in the way of all of this “Alien” business. Along the way, other national & international crises will be introduced by Game Control (made up of Mac and Charlie; the resident heads of Little Wooden Houses) to make things extra difficult, and the Global News Network will be publishing reports of the ongoing events which may, or may not, be accurate. TrustNoOne Part of the fun of being an Alien is in trying to make the game interesting for the Human players; to follow the general direction set out by Game Control, but also to act like completely non-terrestrial entities that will be utterly non-human in their actions and agenda. How the Alien teams actually work is something that is kept secret from the Human teams and, indeed, even from us until the day of the actual event. Megagame Makers have held two, official UK events for Watch the Skies!; both unique in terms of the participating players and with unique storyline. For Little Wooden Houses’ edition of WTS!, Charlie has tweaked the plot and sequence of events to ensure that there’s no advantage for anyone participating that may have played the game previously or elsewhere. What’s going to be interesting for me being an Alien member (and hence more a part of the game than a “player” of it), is in watching the united Human front to see what they do when we throw a bunch of problems their way:

Will they unite together to effectively null the Aliens’ military power through capture of the primary Alien leaders and theft of key Alien technology? Will they reject the Aliens’ peaceful approaches and unleash their Doomsday weapons to annihilate the orbital craft? Will the United Nations break up over disagreements regarding the Aliens’ true intentions, causing World War III and destruction of the Earth whilst the Aliens merely spectate from orbit without getting involved? Will Aliens infiltrate Earth’s major positions of government and bring into action an international decree to give cats equal rights to humans, eventually leading to the Feline Republic overthrowing the British government and passing a ban on dogs?

We shall see. If this sounds genuinely interesting, I recommend watching the video put together by Shut Up And Sit Down during Watch the Skies!’ debut event (May 2014). Furthermore, The Independent recently did a neat article on the recent Watch the Skies! 2 game  held in London in March 2015. [FYI, Shut Up and Sit Down’s video from Watch the Skies! 2 can be found here: (http://www.shutupandsitdown.com/blog/post/susd-play-watch-skies-2-pt-1/)%5D

Of course, I’m writing about LWH’ WTS! here now, because I fully intend to run a debrief after the event and blog about how it all worked out and what happened (without giving away any information about the motives or operation of the Alien teams). From the perspective of someone that intensely enjoys the prospect of observing how a bunch of my friends will choose to respond to extra-terrestrial contact and/or aggression, I’m well excited. Watch the skies, because they’re watching you. [Zinar7]

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Hack / Slash

HackSlash

Just over a week ago, I hit the milestone of Thirty Years Old. Huh.

It’s kind of put me in an odd mental place. I’m supposed to be a grown-up now, right? I’m supposed to gotten to the point in life where I’ve nailed a secure job, become father to a loving family and stopped feeling like I’m still pretty lost in this whole Life™ business.

Oh well.

Perhaps I should be thankful that, instead of the tedium of a straightforward life, my life is still full of twists and turns and the opportunity for adventure. Maybe I should feel heartened that, even at this great age, I’m still a bit of a dreamer; one who still hasn’t given up on the dream of meeting someone new or falling into my ideal career or still having the time and energy to learn and have fun. I’ve never married, never had kids; (relatively) debt-free; still inquisitive, curious and open to new ideas; still just as passionate about the things I love as I ever was.

It’s just a sad twist of fate that, as I pass into my fourth decade on Starship: Earth, I still feel completely in limbo between being a child and being a grown-up. Since I’ve spent so long at University and living in student-type accommodation and hanging around with other University students/postgrads, I still feel very much like an adolescent; still working out where their calling is in life, and who it’s with. Yet, I’m now undeniably a thirtysomething now and that’s supposed to mean mortgage, childcare and family saloon until it’s all pallbearers and headstones. My age clearly denotes that should be a proper adult by now, with responsibility and a role to play in CamBot-5000’s ‘Big Society’; particularly in the light of The Lizard God’s re-election as leader of our great nation. I mean, It’s not like I’m not an actual grown-up (I feed myself, wash myself and clothe myself daily with only a minimal amount of difficulty), but it kind of feels like I’ve still got a lot of growing up still to do and a lot of things to discover about both myself and the world around me.

Because of my complex work and life situation, I’m still trapped (at least, in my head) in the wilderness between adolescence and proper adulthood; a no-man’s land between the two trenches sniping at me from either side. Mentally, this puts me in a tricky position – still feeling a connection to youth and naïvety because my friend group is – generally – slightly younger than me, and because the five or so years that I spent in the throes of PhD kind of sheltered me from the kind of ‘growing up’ that most people of my age have had to endure. I’m also well aware that my hobbies and interests still remain an anchor to ‘youth’; from my passion for gaming (console and tabletop) to my continuing aural commitment to musical genres that are typically seen as being primarily the domain of younger people.

Despite that, I feel proud to be a thirty year-old that still holds such fire for the things they’ve always believed in. I’ve been playing video and computer games for as long as I can remember, and I’ve never had a break from them being my biggest interest in life. Regardless of how I may feel about the state of the popular strand of video games (all Spunk Gargle Wee-Wee and Fee-Fuh), I still retain an intense passion for video gaming. It was, though, a bit of a shock when I realised that the game I’m currently ploughing through (the PlayStation hack ‘n’ slash-type thing set in a light-hearted gothic Hammer Horror-type world, MediEvil) is SEVENTEEN YEARS OLD; despite it feeling like the days of PlayStation action-adventure games were hardly any time ago at all.

Of course, I shouldn’t be too surprised, given that there are now two whole console generations separating the likes of MediEvil and the current PlayStation 4 roster, but perhaps it’s just a reminder at how many gaming years have passed without my brain really realising. I didn’t ever play MediEvil at the time of its release so I’m not drawing on any particular nostalgia shock, but more the fact that my years of hunching over mine and my friend’s PlayStations are still some of the years of gaming that I remember with most clarity. Before the PlayStation, I was predominantly a “PC” gamer – although, technically, I was an “Amiga” gamer since the Amiga-500+ was, technically, not a PC – but the PlayStation was my first proper console and hence there’s a special little patch of nostalgic warmth reserved in my heart for it and everything it brought forth. Either way, I felt like a bit of mindless, retro fun to counter the reality of adulthood and, hence, booted up some PlayStation nostalgia, and hence have recently lost myself in the hacky-slashy world of Gallowmere.

MediEvil is, in actual fact, pretty good. Sure, it’s no The Last of Us and time has hardly been kind to either the graphical fidelity or the game’s control system, but there’s charm enough to ward away the most intense criticism. It’s as close to Hallowe’en Town as one can get without infringing Tim Burton’s copyright on cartoonish, gothic horror; a brightly-coloured, trick-or-treat action-adventure game gone terrifyingly right. In many ways, I feel that MediEvil and ‘me’ share a lot in common: distinctly rough around the edges, difficult to control and bridging the gap between true horror and multi-coloured cartoon. Still, while we both continue to hack and slash away through unclear, blocky graphics with little in the way of instruction or tutorial, I’d like to think that I’ve aged marginally better than a seventeen year-old shiny disc.

[Zinar7]

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friday_011

F011

I’ve always said: celebrity deaths come in threes. Then again, so do the deaths of my treasured possessions, it seems.

The last week or two have mainly been spent trying to mend, or replace, pieces of electrical equipment that seem to have decided push up the daisies: first, my cellphone; then, bits of my car; and finally, my TV. I’m beginning to think that I have some sort of curse: a sort of Midas Touch that causes electrical equipment to expire by merely being in the same geographical location as me. Perhaps I’m made of magick.

[it’s worth pointing out at this juncture that my digital camera has also developed some sort of fault that I’ve not quite been able to get to the root of; which does mean that the ‘bad things come in threes’ rule has been shattered and that I may have actually broken the universe. If a gaping maw of inter-dimensional cataclysm has opened up near you, then I’m desperately sorry.]

While sorting out a new cellphone and repairs to Big Suze have been no great cause for festivity, this recent state of affairs has forced me to pick up a new TV to replace my old, enormous CRT monolith and finally join the world of High-Definition. I’m not usually one to crow about graphical fidelity or anything, but my, is it purdy. I’ve most recently been playing a lot of Need for Speed: Most Wanted (the PS3 one, although I still sort of maintain that the original one is better, if less pretty) and my goodness does it look good. Obviously, I’m a massive automotive nut and am “well into” motor racing and stuff so am already slightly aroused by the sight of attractive pieces of metal and carbon fibre moving at high speed, but NFS:MW it a delight to look at; with its lovely reflections and lens flare and sunset filtration and gorgeously cinematic, pre-race short films.

Oddly enough for an avid watcher of motor racing and things going fast and things, racing games have never, really, found a particularly special place in my heart: yet, I can’t really explain why. Somehow, the accurate racing simulations (Gran Turismo, Forza, Project Gotham Racing, etc.) have always felt too methodical and not enough like a game to me; requiring expenditure of countless hours in the digital garage, tweaking every last nut and bolt in order to shave hundredths-of-a-second off a lap time. Funnily enough, I adore stat-based /RPG elements in a story-based game with character development and adventurin’, but grow restlessly yawnsome when I’m forced to stare at too many stats and upgrades in other genres (strategy, simulation, etc.). My main motivation, when playing a video game, is still to have fun; whereas simulation games (be them racing, farming or goat simulators), for me, have always placed too many barriers in front of the important business of fun.

Need for Speed has always felt a little different, though; blending some aspects of the engine-tweaking upgradability with the sheer, foot-to-the-floor velocity of OutRun. The movement of Criterion Games developing many of the latter Need for Speeds (Hot Pursuit, Most Wanted and The Rivals) has meant that they’ve absorbed a lot of the features that Criterion previously introduced to Burnout; slow-mo, metal-bending crashes and friendship-ending revenge takedowns. Weirdly, then, NFS:MW feels like a public safety video highlighting the perils of street racing; with time slowing to render every smash, shunt and shimmer in a haunting ballet of wrangled metal. It’s been a genuine delight to take such a perverse amount of pleasure at watching digital cars crashing/breaking in high-definition, perhaps acting as some sort of poetic justice countering everything else that’s doing its best to self-destruct in my life.

In honesty, I’ve played a lot of Need for Speed: Most Wanted. I discovered some time ago that racing games were one of those rare instances where I can truly lose myself and forget, utterly about the outside world. Perhaps it’s something about focussing purely on whether the next apex is and how you can tread the very fine line between optimised speed and loss of control that stops the rest of my brain (the bit that constantly worries, questions and fears) from gaining any sort of traction [pun intended]. It’s not necessarily that I have any racing talent or skill (quite the opposite; I’m woefully – almost tediously – average when placed on a track), but more a mindset: I’m not the best at multi-tasking, so if I’m concentrating solely on getting ‘round the track in the most optimal time whilst attempting to keep pace with my competitors, then I can’t possibly be thinking about whether I’m wasting my life. [The delicious irony being that, if I’m spending my time playing video games, then I probably am wasting it to some extent.]

Still, with the long, cold Winter finally behind us and the Spring properly gaining traction, it’s relieving to know that that the motor racing season is once again underway and roaring through some of the world’s greatest arenas of asphalt and dirt. Formula One kicked off delightfully a couple of weekends ago and continues in Malaysia in the next few days; the World Touring Car Championship got started in Argentina a few weeks back, and the British Touring Car Championship kicks off at Brands Hatch next weekend. Formula One will always be my soulmate, but I’m aiming to do better at keeping up with both the WTCC and BTCC this year after losing track [pun sort of intended] of both at some point during the summer of last year. I’ll definitely be going to the BTCC at Thruxton for birthday-related shenanigans, and hopefully also the Formula E race that’ll be happening in London around Battersea Park. I’m still holding out a vague hope of being able to get to an F1 race abroad sometime during 2015, but it’s looking increasingly unlikely. Never say never, though.

But anyway, I’ve probably talked enough about shiny metallic things with wheels for the time being.

tl;dr: CARS.

[Zinar7]

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Boardcrafting +1

Boardcrafting

There’s going to be a bit of a change to the regular Friday Blog cycle, as I feel that I deserve a break from the routine; at least for a week. So, instead of a thousand or so words talking about something opinion-worthy, I’m going to catalogue one of my most recent creative endeavours – my homemade Munchkin Level Playing Field game board – and how one might make one, were one into creative print ‘n’ play board game projects or that sort of thing.

Munchkin has always sort of disturbed me because the essence of the game is to advance your procedurally-generated dungeon-raiding character from Level One to Level Ten (with the winner being the first player to reach Level 10 first), but no materials are supplied with the base game with which to count levels and players must instead use some random tokens, coins, or pen and paper to keep score. Steve Jackson Games does, however, manufacture playing boards and playing pieces that can be bought separately (or as a bundle in the ‘Munchkin Deluxe’ sets), but I thought that – instead of simply ordering them online – it’d be more fun to try and make my own. This post catalogues the process of trying to put them together.

So, what does this thing look like? Well, the finished article looks like this:

P1050304

To put it together, I started with a plain hardback (A5) notebook from PoundLand (The Theatre of Dreams™) , and removed the pages and the metal spine so that I had just the front and back covers; which I (temporarily) taped together with book-binding tape to hold it together. I then sketched out a series of boxes, one to ten, along which the playing pieces would move in order to track levels.

I took the idea of replicating the Munchkin Deluxe board because I liked the idea of the board representing the dungeon that the adventurers are questing through, observed as a top-down view of a winding castle, or something. This way, it’s easier to figure out who’s in the lead and hence whether you want to either hinder them or lend a hand in return for bonus loot.

The next process was to paint up the background areas (green for grass outside the keep), and grey for the castle’s rooms. I used acrylic paints and a regular brush, and I quite wanted it to look ‘rough’ and weathered somewhat so I used quite a lot of dry-brush techniques to “scrape” paint onto the board. When I was done, I outlined the walls with a black Sharpie and then a silver-finish Sharpie for the inner section of the walls.

Munchkin_8

I wanted to add some definition to the inner walls, so I added a stone brick pattern to the outside faces of the walls with a very fine marker, just for funsies. I painted up the starting box (1) and ending box (10) up in more bright colours to reflect “Victory”, and designated each room with the relevant level number.

Because I wanted the notebook to represent a fictional dungeon-quester’s notebook (perhaps akin to a character notebook from Dungeons and Dragons), I wanted to give it a fantasy/role-playing feel so I removed the book-binding tape and replaced it with old, worn yarn that I found in the shed. I cut lots of thin strips of it (about 10-15 cm in length) and then tied them in loops through the holes of the original notebook’s spine. As a final flourish, I decorated the front of the board with the words ‘Munchkin Adventurer’s Notebook’, comme ça:

 

Right, so that’s the board finished, but what do we use to count? Well, instead of buying a Bag O’ Munchkins, I turned instead to shrink plastic to make some ~7 cm pieces to insert into plastic stands to represent each player.

I scoured through a bunch of cards from the base Munchkin deck to find some interesting characters, scanned the cards in and blew them up before printing them to a scale that the character was around 12 cm in size. I used Shrinkies clear shrink plastic, traced the outline with a black Sharpie and then coloured in the relevant area with other Sharpie pens. I needed 6 (because Munchkin plays three to six players), so to be sure of not screwing up, I made nine pieces and cut them out; making sure not to leave too many ‘thin’ bits because I found that these tended to warp very badly when fired in the oven.

I set the oven to “grill” (PUNS.) and lined a baking tray with tin foil. Then, one by one, placed each sheet into the oven for a few minutes (until it goes all curly, shrinks down and flattens out again) before removing it and immediately pressing it under a heavy book in order to flatten out the piece. After touching them up a little bit with the markers where the ink slightly melted and smudged, they were placed in their plastic stands. Because one or two went badly wrong in the oven, and a couple ended up noticeably out of scale with the other playing pieces, I was left with six complete pieces: two male, two female and two monster-ish; which I put in stands, ready to play with 🙂

Munchkin_7

I’m pretty pleased! I think they look rad, even if no-one else agrees with me. Plus, everything still fits in my base Munchkin box, et voila:

P1050211

So yeah, GO GO GADGET CREATIVITY.

[Zinar7]

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friday_009

F009

In my entry from last Friday, I qualified my thoughts on video games and gaming by explaining that I find the process of play to be fascinating.

It’s true, I do find the act of playing to be something that’s always an interesting process – partly due to some of the more obvious excursions that play allows (role-playing as some far-flung hero; making decisions or play-acting in a way that doesn’t affect anything meaningful in real life; etc.), but also because I really enjoy engaging with other people in a ‘play’ scenario. That’s not to say that I don’t enjoy socialising with people in a normal setting or just offhand – I mean that I find it very interesting to see what other people do when they’re engaged in something that doesn’t have proper consequences in real life; to see what choices they make and what strategies they employ in winning the game or tackling the problem at hand.

For me, his fascination has, most prominently, been propagated through my expanding passion for board- and tabletop gaming; the social aspect of which still properly brings me a whole fuckton of joy. I miss the good times of the PlayStation/PS2 and Nintendo 64/GameCube console generation(s) where, routinely, four people would come together to hammer out a few rounds of GoldenEye 007, Micro Machines V3 or Mario Kart: Double Dash!!. There are, of course, exceptions to the rule but multiplayer video games now overwhelmingly force players to be separated by a connection barrier rather than just a simply sharing a multitap and a beanbag in front of the TV. Part of this feeling is borne of nostalgia, but it’s mainly a frustration at how good things used to be and how the community of gaming friends crouched around a tiny CRT monitor looking at a tinier quadrant of screen felt far more connected and social than the gargantuan, exhaustive ‘community’ that online play now elevates.

Part of the reason that I’ve grown so attached to tabletop gaming, I think, is that it helps propagate a worthwhile social aspect of play that has (rather disappointingly) all but vanished from digital gaming. Sure, text and voice chat still exists in PC and console gaming and it’s easy to arrange your friends to be connected to you in a virtual space, but it’s not the same as being able to gloat theatrically and extensively in the face of a friend – sitting right next to you – who’s just been blown up by a Blue Shell right before they cross the finish line and pipping them to the post.

In short: Sharing the same, physical, social space with a bunch of close friends while engaging in the process of play is infinitely more entertaining than getting 360noscoped and being called a homosexual by a fourteen year-old you’ve never met on the other side of the world.

The rise of German-style “designer” board games can, partly, be interpreted as a reaction to the ebbing sense of ‘social’ play in modern video games. As consoles have gained online capabilities in the last 10/12 years, (online) gaming has transitioned video gaming away from the “family” environment (with a small group of people in your own living room) to engaging with vast servers of unknown, random nodes across a gargantuan network. While board games have always been a popular activity – before and after the invention of video games –  I have definitely noticed a trend in how designer board games have swelled in number over the last six or seven years and even begun to infiltrate shelf-space in more mainstream shops (i.e. those that aren’t specialist gaming stores) on the High Street. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that these trends tally up quite so well.

Naturally, there are likely a whole lot of other reasons why these trends exist and it’s unlikely to be so simple a correlation that one can say, without question, that the shift towards online multiplayer video gaming has stoked the fires of Euro-style board gaming. But I think that there’s definitely a pattern involved, and perhaps it’s one that’s associated with gamers becoming a little disillusioned with the state of modern, AAA video games and aching to rediscover a sense of community play that seems to be growing more absent with each console generation.

In parallel, I’ve noticed a growth in the establishment of more, local tabletop gaming groups, and the population of existing ones swelling in number as more people discover the hobby. From personal experience, the genetic make-up of most of these groups tends to be formed, predominantly, of blokes in their thirties and onwards; at least, among those that aren’t based at, or very near, University campuses and the like. I might be painting with some fairly broad brush-strokes here, but I often feel like quite a proportion serious board game hobbyists are, perhaps, the kind of people that used to play video games but, perhaps, have fallen out of favour with them in the last few years; turning to tabletop gaming as more of an alternative. Of course, I haven’t canvassed the opinions of many of the board gaming community as to whether this is a 100% accurate deduction, but I’d be willing to place some stake behind being at least partially on the money.

The fact of the matter is, I still get a major kick out of engaging with people while we’re playing together; be it in digital world, or in a physical space. That passion is something that is hard-wired into me; like breathing and walking. But, the biggest buzz still comes when I collect together people into the same geographic location to play, and any method of making that happen anywhere and everywhere  is all good in my book.

[Zinar7]

 

If you’re into board gaming and attractive ladies – or, more specifically, attractive ladies playing board games and writing about them in an amusing and intelligent way – then you should check out The Misery Farm: How to Win Games and Alienate Meeple [themiseryfarm.com] because it has all of that and more, and blogs about board game-type stuff way better than I ever could.

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friday_008

F008

This week’s Friday blog (and, likely, next week’s too) is going to be focussed a little bit on games of various sorts, because I find the whole subject of play to be totally fascinating.

It recently dawned on me that, as I approach my 30th birthday, very soon I will be taking my passion for playing video and computer games into my fourth decade on Planet Earth. Age-wise, I’m at the tail-end of the first proper generation of children that had video games as a major Thing in their lives, and I’ve been playing computer games as a serious hobby (and without any breaks) for 23-odd years now. Video games have been a constant presence in my life for as long as I can remember, and I’ve always fanned the flames of that passion by throwing myself into gaming at every possible opportunity and with every major console generation at, and since, the 16-bit era.

It’s only now, though, that I’ve sensed that I’m not really in touch with gaming anymore. I’m at a point, now, where I feel no great urge to make the leap into the current console generation of PlayStation 4, Xbox One and Wii U; nothing that draws me in to new hardware, nor encourages me to invest in the short-sighted output of AAA-studios and cash-hungry publishers. At least for the time being, I’m perfectly happy with my PS3 and my PC (and my Wii, my PS2, my GameCube, my DS, yada yada) and don’t feel like a few more pixels or some extra ultraFLOPs of processing power are going to lead to me having any more fun than the fun that I currently have with the machinery I already own, or owned in the past.

It used to be different, though: I remember the days of playing blocky, LucasArts point ‘n’ click adventure games where it was 100% about story and gameplay and not a jot about photorealistic textures, and hashy polygon-based stunt racing games where the absence of car physics and multi-reflective surfaces were no hindrance to the process of having a blast. I funnelled umpteen hours into Lemmings, The Simpsons: Bart Simpson vs. the Space Mutants, Sleepwalker, Soccer Kid and Lotus Turbo Challenge II, even though they looked like crap, didn’t necessarily play that well, and routinely broke or glitched out because of bugs or because the floppy disk was knackered. That was my era of gaming; one where I recall – with a misty-eyed expression – the simultaneous joy and frustration at having to constantly insert and eject Money Island 2’s ELEVEN floppy disks in order to load new scenes or dialogue to the game. Of course, while Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge has lost none of its charm and brilliance in the intervening fourteen years, the likes of Race Drivin’ on the Amiga 500+ have long since been eclipsed by genuine progress in design and mechanics, and all but forgotten except by Nostalgia-nerds like me.

Looking at the broad spectrum, games are better now than they were when I first engaged with the hobby: they’re more shiny, better written, work better and are far, far more accepted by the mainstream than I ever dreamt that they would be. The leaps that were made throughout the 32/64-bit era (PlayStation and Nintendo 64) and then onto the 128-bit one (PlayStation 2, GameCube, Dreamcast and Xbox) were genuinely mind-blowing; where the improvement in graphical fidelity was also joined by progress in game engines (and hence gameplay), along with improved cinematic awareness and well-written dialogue and storylines. There’s a reason why many of the most highly-regarded video games (Final Fantasy VII, Super Mario 64, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, Half-Life) came from those eras: it felt like mainstream/’AAA’-games were just improving in every way; but never at the expense of fun, and never forgetting that they were there for play.

In the last four-five years, though, I’ve sort of felt like I’m not the target of mainstream games anymore – The need for even better graphics (beyond what we have now; which I could call ‘perfectly adequate’ for representing an immersive virtual world) doesn’t really grab me, and the prevalence for newly-released games to have Day One bug patches or pay-unlockable DLC sort of makes me be a little sick in my mouth. Furthermore, I’m not into sports games like Fee-Fuh; nor ones where fourteen year-olds go around shooting each other with realistic military equipment whilst calling every other player a homosexual. The term “Gamer”, these days, conjures up visions of spotty teenagers playing FIFA 15, Call of Duty and Candy Crush Saga. I’m a person that plays games, but I’m not a gamer.

I’m also not loads into disrespecting women or doxxing anyone that doesn’t 100% believe in the same views as me, which seems to be a big part of calling yourself a “gamer” these days.

Nothing about the PlayStation 4/Xbox One output from their first 18 months or so has shown me that we’re any closer to the asymptote of Gaming Perfection than we were, say, eight to ten years ago, and there’s no sinew in me that feels the urge to make the leap to the next gen. I’m not here saying that “old games were better” or anything like that; my gaming collection still spans over 25 years’ worth of digital fun, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. All I am saying is that – Oculus Rift and VR aside – I don’t truthfully foresee anything truly revolutionary happening to my gaming palate as I turn the clock over from twenties to thirties. It’s been a long time since a new AAA video game truly took my breath away (BioShock Infinite was probably the last one that did that), so it seems like – for now –  it’s still up to the indie gaming scene and my existing collection to continue to produce the most interesting and relevant contributions to my gaming buffet.

So yeah, excuse me while I crack on with some Borderlands, Chrono Trigger and Citizens of Earth. Boom.

[Zinar7]

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