Diablo 3 Interview: Travis Day @ Blizzcon 2014

Diablo 3 Interview: Travis Day @ Blizzcon 2014

The subject of our developer interview at Blizzcon 2014 was Travis Day, a Systems Designer on Diablo 3. Armed with a big list of questions whittled down from the dozens of excellent suggestions you guys offered, I hit Travis with almost every big question on the list, and quite a few small ones as well.

Travis Day, Flux, and Jason Regier.
Travis Day, Flux, and Jason Regier.

This is part one of the interview covering the first 15 minutes. Included are questions about improving the Realm of Trials, adding higher levels of Torment, allowing trading, making bounties more viable and not just Act One oriented, the new legendary gems, buying more stash space, and more.

Part Two will be posted tomorrow, covering the second half of the interview. I’ll post the full audio then as well, for readers who would prefer to be listeners. Enjoy, and thanks to everyone at Blizzard for getting us into Blizzcon and for setting up this interview, and especially thanks to Lawrence Travis Day for handling every question and giving such honest and open answers.

I forgot to get a pic with Travis this year, but since I interviewed him at Blizzcon 2013 (along with Jason Regier) you can just view that pic if you want a side by side. We looked pretty much the same as last year, though I was in a black IncGamers t-shirt this time around.

Diablo 3 Interview: Travis Day @ Blizzcon 2014:

Intro and opening banter…

1:00 —

IncGamers: So Travis, what have you been working on recently?
Travis: Lots of things. Recently in Patch 2.1 I spent a tremendous amount of time working on the legendary gems. I got married and went on my honeymoon also, during our Patch 2.1 PTR. Recently I’ve been working on Patch 2.2 and Ancient Items and some other stuff we’re going to show off tomorrow.

IncGamers: What was your favorite legendary gem, since you were working on them?
Travis: Oh wow… I think my favorite is Boon of the Hoarder.

IncGamers: Hah, you and everyone else. We ran a vote recently for favorite Legendary Gem, and Boon of the Hoarder came in first. Despite the fact that people constantly post saying gold is meaningless and worthless and they have too much of it. People just love the shiny. And the level 25 bonus you get to move really fast.
Travis: Oh yeah, I love it. My first time using it… I don’t even remember what I was killing. A pack of swarmer mobs… and my screen just exploded in gold.

IncGamers: It makes you play terrible areas too. I do the Ruins of Corvus in Act Five for all the scarabs. Or the first time I was using it, I was doing the Spider Caves in Act One. Everyone’s least favorite bounty area, but there are *so* many little spiders.
Travis: Yeah, totally.

2:20 —

IncGamers: So speaking of Legendary Gems, that was one of my main questions. About how there aren’t any useful defensive ones. But today’s What’s Next in Reaper of Souls panel revealed two new legendary gems with big defensive properties. I assume you guys looked at the currently popular gems and saw the two defensive ones were the least used?
Travis: Yeah, they are. We’re always trying to iterate and always trying to find interesting ways to add new items to the game, and Legendary Gems are just the newest feature. And since they’re a new feature, the first round that we created and sent out with Patch 2.1…. there was a lot of question marks. We weren’t really sure…

We knew things like Moratorium would be less popular than Bane of the Powerful, but we put them out anyway. We were like, “well, even if only Hardcore players use them.”

IncGamers: *laugh* But Hardcore players don’t use them. I play Hardcore.
Travis: Yeah… The thing players ask us for the most is healing and defensive gems. Which is great, because it’s amazing when players want more tanky things. Because for years, its’ been “no one cares about tanking in the game.” I think Greater Rifts helped sort of reframe the mindset about those things.

IncGamers: I was surprised none of the Legendary Gems have any of the “resurrect upon death” properties. Those are found on many items now and some skills, but they’re unevenly distributed and Barbarians still don’t have one, and that class really suffers for it in Hardcore.
Travis: We haven’t talked about that yet, but it’s something we’re open to.

IncGamers: Is it because Blizzard hates Barbarians?
Travis: Blizzard loves Barbarians! I’ve played one myself quite extensively.

IncGamers: Well players just say that for whichever class is best or worst at the time. Obviously you guys loved the Barbarian best for like a year and a half during Vanilla.
Travis: Ahh… I think we just didn’t patch as much as we could have. To maybe try to normalize the playing field. I enjoyed it thoroughly, personally.

4:00 —

IncGamers: Jumping around to different questions to cover the most requested ones. Probably the most requested issue relates to stash space. Everyone wants more, and players talk all the time about how they’d even be happy to pay for more space. It seems a natural extension, since you guys had the whole Real Money Auction House, and that was supposed to be the ongoing source of income to pay for the servers and development. And now that’s gone, so why not fill the money hole with DLC stash and character tabs?
Travis: Well that’s two questions. Do you want to know about stash space or about microtransactions. Since those aren’t the same thing.

IncGamers: Well stash space…
Travis: Stash space comes up a lot. I’ve said myself, “I would totally pay to have more stash tabs.” But honestly… that’s when I’m in my player’s shoes. When I’m in my designer’s shoes, we talk about it differently. No matter how many tabs we give players; two more, five more, etc, they’re going to fill those and want more. So what we’ve been trying to figure out recently is how we can help you better manage your stash. How we can help you not need to save so many things.

So take something like crafting materials. Maybe we make them easier to store. maybe we find reasons for players to get rid of some extra stuff they’re keeping.

On top of that there are technical reasons. There are only so many… we call them “actors” but it’s about how many items are in our game and how many it’s storing in memory at any given time. If we do almost any more than we have now, the game can’t physically keep up with it.

IncGamers: It’s often an issue in Hardcore since players need to hold extra gear for when they die. And you guys have put in so much more customization of items that gear isn’t interchangeable between different classes or builds anymore.
Travis: There are a lot of technical limitations to it. The one that comes up a lot is, “what if you just let us pay for more storage?” Well one, even if we did that, that’s not necessarily the right fix or the right approach. And two, there are a lot of technical reasons we couldn’t do that. So instead we’re trying ot figure more ways to get rid of things and feel good about it in the process.

IncGamers: I’m sure I’ll be asking you about this next year…
Travis: *laugh* Well… I hope not. I’m sure by next year you’ll have seen some changes.

7:00 —

IncGamers: So, Trading. Pretty much everything is bind on account now, except legendaries in the same game. And there’s constantly requests, especially from people in the clans I head on US and EU, to allow some trading within clans. Make it so you have to be in the clan for 30 days so people don’t just join up to buy gear… any possibility we’ll see more trading allowed in the future?
Travis: We’re happy with how trading is now. We hear this feedback a lot…

IncGamers: I’m asking the most popular questions first.
Travis: Yeah. Someone at the bar yesterday was asking me about this.

When we took trading and restricted it as much as it had to be to help make the game the best it could be, it was something that I use an anecdote a lot in these conversations. In D2, my buddy would join the game and throw all these items on the ground and I’d be like, “Sweet! Hooray!” But that moment of altruism on his behalf, and that moment of excitement for me, basically just truncated all future item finding for me.

So even though this issue comes up a lot with suggestions for safeguards like 30 days in the clan, or on the friend list. The reasons we got rid of trading was to protect players from spammers, bots, people who would try to take their credit card info. Any trading that’s available at all will open the door to black market sites. And ultimately, you still can. If you’re playing with your friend or family, here’s a great item and here you go.

The trading rules we have in the game now are the best for the co-op experience we want players to be having.

IncGamers: Difficulty! There was nothing in the panel about higher difficulty or changes at that end. Now that so many players are well-geared, having just Torment 6 isn’t enough. That’s only equivalent to Greater Rift 25 and lots of players can just steamroll T6 in a few minutes, with no difficulty or danger. Obviously you guys want Greater Rifts to be the highest difficulty for the end game content, but it seems like T6 has become pointless for some. Have you thought about higher levels of Torment?
Travis: This issue comes up sometimes around the office, but we don’t have any plans to add higher levels of Torment now. When we do talk about this, the issue is usually… we talk about what we want the cadence of the gameplay to feel like. We don’t feel the game is at its best when played at the highest difficulty for extended periods of time. Which is why Greater Rifts you have to sort of work your way up each time. We feel like the game is better with peaks and valleys. When you’re compressing and trying really hard, then the unwinding.

And we feel like T6 Rifts are filing that purpose now for the really advanced players. While Greater Rifts are the higher difficulty. And we don’t really want to muddy that water now.

11:00 —

IncGamers: Speaking of Rifts, how about the Realm of Trials? Some people hate doing it. They hate doing Waves, and character builds vary a lot in how effect they are in that area. People always ask why they can’t start on the last Rift they did, instead of doing Waves. And sure, that kind of usurps the function of Urshi and the choice players have to make between upgrading their gems or their rift key… I’ve heard many people talk about how they can only do say Wave 30, but up to Greater Rift 35 or 38. Unless they party with some Demon Hunters, in which case they can start right out on GR40. Is that a concern for you guys, balancing Waves with Greater Rifts?
Travis: I think the Trials are something we’re still iterating on. WE talk about this a lot at the office. There are some changes going in Patch 2.12 to make Trails more rewarding and to take some of the more frustrating things out of them. People talk about the ability to pull some of the monsters, like with Piranhas or Cyclone Strike. I think last week we made the change to allow you to pull all the monsters in the trials.

We talk about this a lot… How often people should need to do trials… This is something that we know we want to change, but we don’t necessarily know what we want to do yet. I talk about this with Wyatt a lot. We know we want to have Trials, they serve a very good purpose to let players not have to clear 1-30 every time, that’s why we have trials. They can be a point of friction for people who want to do a lot of Greater Rifts in a row.

But at the same time, when I go to a ride, and they take out a measuring stick and say you must be this tall, they don’t measure me again the second time, and the third time, and the fourth time I go through the line. So we want to reduce the amount that players need to do Trials, but not remove them entirely.

IncGamers: How about giving multiple keys when you do a trial?
Travis: Sure, possibly. Maybe we could give 5 or 10 keys at a time.

IncGamers: Could they pop and drop all around the level, so players would have to run and pick them up?
Travis: *laugh* I don’t know that that would be as fun….

IncGamers: How about a Trial Key goblin, and he runs around the level, dropping the right keys. We need more types of Goblins, right?
Travis: Goblins are awesome.

IncGamers: So changing topics again, something that’s been mentioned a few times recently by your fellow developers is the possibility of Bounty improvements. People do Adventure Mode non-stop, and you talked about it in the panel but just in terms of improving the Rift map layouts, or fixing monster density in Rifts. What about making bounties more compelling or rewarding? No one does bounties in Acts 2 or 3 or 5. How about boosting those? Putting the Ring of Royal Grandeur in Act Five? Giving out a bigger bonus to players who do all 25 bounties in the same game? Any ideas for making Bounties more rewarding?
Travis: I don’t think Bounties are not viable. They’re really good and they have a distinct purpose in the game. When we talk about this at the office, generally my opinion on the topic is that bounties are cool as they are. I think it’s that in the last patch when we changed how many Rift Keys are required to open up a Rift, it went from 5 down to 1.

One key per player was good, since you didn’t just stand around in a public game going, “Who’s going to open this?” And then people join and leave and don’t open it. But the downside is that if you’re a solo player, or a hardcore player with some friends you don’t use keys as often as you used to. A full Act of Bounties used to give you one Rift and now it gives you five. So it’s really shifted the focus purely because we under-costed keys now.

That’s something we talk about so do we raise the key cost back up, or do something else to make people do bounties. But ultimately I think between the Rift cost, and the Bounty bag rewards… I think bounties are less fun than Rifts, so we don’t want the focus of the game to be on them.

IncGamers: I know you guys have exact stats, but when I’m on and looking at what people in the clan are doing, it’s 99% Rifts or Act One Bounties, since everyone always wants a better Ring of Royal Grandeur. But the incentives are so different. And Act One is so much faster and easier. It seems very unbalanced.
Travis: People have just suggested why not moving the Ring of Royal Grandeur to Act Five. And then it’s like, we’re just moving the problem, and everyone just does Act Five. There’s no plans to do anything of that nature. If anything we’d look at it on the key front, or increasing the diversity of the rewards.

That’s the end of Part One. Part two with the full audio can be seen here.

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27 thoughts on “Diablo 3 Interview: Travis Day @ Blizzcon 2014

    • Personally … I just don't buy Travis' whole position on storage. I don't think the Diablo sky would come crashing down if they gave us more space. It's just an excuse to ignore what is THE biggest issue in the game.

  1. The defensive gems are one of the few good things they actually did. That said, as long as the game is structured so you need insane damage just so things die in a decent time frame, and so that defense doesn't work very well in dangerous situations survival IS offense.

    If using offensive gems makes things die even 2 seconds faster, that's a round of affix spam I might avoid and by extension something that could kill me without the potential of countering it. Then instead of entering that situation and taking less damage I don't enter that situation.

    That and no mention was made of making GRs worth it or actually competitive or anything, and they specifically declined higher normal difficulties. You don't need defensive gems for standard farming.

    • On the other hand, people often say that you *need* Unity to go above a certain GR level, so going for defense clearly works and is important when it's available in useful amounts. I think the new Esoteric Alteration could be a real winner, but personally I was already fairly happy with Moratorium.

      The main problem is the fundamental difference between defense and offense: you can progress with maxed offense, even if enemies one-shot you, but can't with maxed defense, because you won't kill anything at the higher GR levels. Introducing a couple of really powerful defensive items (including gems) could work. This way we only have to sacrifice a small portion of our offense for a huge jump in defense. This doesn't create a defensive imbalance for the reason I said above (players won't ever go for full defense). It could have interesting effects on the PvP scene though, if it would exist.

      As for how rewarding GRs are, I don't know about you, but for less than 15 minutes of play time I've found them to be the best way to get Legendaries, as even Guardians below the 10th tend to drop at least one.

      How they plan to level the competition in GRs was touched upon in the "What's Next" panel I believe. Randomness stays, but it's importance on your results will be reduced. This means less variance between Guardians, in enemy density and Pylon count. Basically they are aiming for less spikes in player performance without eliminating randomness completely.

      • Eventually it's mandatory for the trivial things. The non trivial things literally do an order of magnitude more damage, minimum.

        Unity is also an instant double defense, something no defensive gem does.

        If you're getting 1 leg per 15 minutes that is an atrocious return on investment. A derpy rate is 15-20 an hour, a good rate is 30+++. You're claiming 4 is good. (though GR1s might be the only ones worth doing, provided you have a speed moving build that beats 25-30 an hour, preferably while multiboxing the same class.

        And not sure if you actually seen the damage there, but it consists of jailer > instant death/proc. Frozen = lose half or more even if you move away instantly. Thunderstorm = same.

        There is a reason it's all about hard counters (invincibility, crowd control, off screening) and even good defensive items wouldn't change that, and you'd still need Zel's and Trapped or you don't do enough damage. Remember, you need literally TRILLIONS of damage in 15 minutes or you auto lose.

        Same Blizzard that had their cats set enemy life values: HAI GAIS Y U SPAM STACK CRIT DMG?!?!?!

        That being said, they could be useful in a properly designed game which is more than can be said of say, Moratorium (which you never want even triggering, because cc = death).

        We also haven't even seen it but we have seen Blizzard. Don't be surprised if their solution for variance is "remove even more of the actually good maps, remove zombies, do not make the actual difficult enemies worth it".

        • It's inevitable that when Rifts scale to infinity this will become a problem eventually. This infinite scaling is what fans asked for though and it's also part of why GRs are a competition you can't ever absolutely win, only improve your times, just like in a real race.

          The balance between enemy HP and damage scaling could be adjusted of course, but whatever you do with the current rules players will always favor offense in the end because it allows them to progress, meaning that getting one-shotted will eventually happen, whatever you do. Let's say the devs would make it so that enemies gain less damage per Rift level than they do now. We could progress further for a while, even with increased defense, but we will always hit a point where enemies could one-shot us. Defense could mitigate that, but at the price that we couldn't actually clear that Rift level in time.

          I think some people need to accept that infinite scaling will always have problems like this (even if GRs wouldn't have a time limit), acting as a kind of soft cap on how far we can progress. This is not a design oversight or balance issue that needs to be solved, it's an integral part of how a race works, where people could slowly inch closer and closer towards a better time.

          About my GR Guardian comment, my point wasn't that 4 Legendary per hour is the best you can do or it should be your goal, but that at any given difficulty I think killing GR Guardians is very lucrative. Granted, I usually play only slightly beyond T6 difficulty, but at that level GRs still seem better to me for Legendary hunting than running normal T6 Rifts.

          On Gems, given that Moratorium removes it's own DoT on hit, it's actually a pretty good defensive gem. If you get CC'd that's on you.

          The new Esoteric Alteration is pretty damn nice though anyway, as the most dangerous attacks tend to be non-physical it it will reduce them more than Unity, at least below 50% HP. Of course the question that instantly comes to mind is how will that HP-based reduction work. If you still receive full damage when you're sitting above 50% that would really suck and would reduce the usefullness of the gem for high level play considerably, which is why I'm hoping that in that case it will reduce the damage appropriately (the part that hits below 50%).

          The Molten Wildebeest's Gizzard seems really bad and I don't think it will high level play as it is. If that's the goal I think it should grant LoH and the damage shield should scale with our life pool.

          Finally, on reducing GR variance, I fully expect them to do things like you've mentioned. The goal is to eliminate outliers (either low or high) caused by randomness. That said, they stated multiple times (not just at this BlizzCon, but in the past as well) that they far prefer to buff things than to nerf things when it makes sense and doesn't brake the game even more.

          • Races do not have different courses for every participant in the same race, or for the same participant reentering the race.

            GR guardians are absolute junk for drops. When you consider what they do "give you the items you would have gotten anyways" and then consider a GR is literally the worst normal maps with no goblins or chests (both give a lot of loot) it makes sense, but it also cuts your rewards by a factor of 2 or 3 compared with normal runs of the same level.

            I confused Mora with Invigorating, the problem with Mora is it makes very hard hits actually hit harder.

          • Technically you're right about races, but like I mentioned in one of our previous discussions in some technical sports (I'm most familiar with motor sports) participants do have varying levels of technical support, which already puts a limit on their competitiveness even before the skill level of the individuals. Also, environmental conditions constantly change, however slightly and even minor changes can affect the difference between two people. My point with all of this is that absolute control is always an illusion and races aren't an exception. Sure, in a simulated environment we could technically create such perfectly controlled scenarios to better compare two participants, but personally I wouldn't want that (not as a main form of competition at least, I'd be fine with a separate ladder) as it's not how things work in the real world and it would also make the game more boring for me. On the other hand simulations also allow for additional randomness, like constantly changing course, which makes things more interesting, at least for me. Like Josh said, randomness is a tool and as such it's all about what you use it for.

            I see your point about GRs. I have to confess that I only have anecdotal evidence about this, so as far as I'm concerned people can ignore me on this, but I often felt that since GRs don't have any distractions (no loot, no goblins, no chests) along the way to the Guardian I get a better pay off for the time I spend there, given that I'm mainly concerned with Legendaries. It's possible that I'm wrong about this and those missing distractions actually provide me with more loot than I think, but in my experience in a T6 normal Rift for example I can expect to find 0-5 Legendaries, while in a level 25 Greater Rift I get 2-3 at the end and I also finish faster. Of course, the problem with GR times is that you also have to do a trial. I don't know, my preference for GRs may simply be due to the fact that I really like that I don't have to stop for anything until I hit the Guardian.

            As for Moratorium, could you elaborate? With Mora 30% of the damage you'll receive will be dealt as a fairly long DoT, which you can also clear if you're fighting, especially with if you have high attack speed (go go Flying Dragon Monks). Furthermore LoH and Life Regen can significantly reduce the effect this DoT will have on your HP pool. I don't see how it can make hard hits hit you even harder. Of course equipping Mora is futile when even 70% of the damage you'll receive can kill you in one hit. However, when you're gradually increasing the GR levels you clear Mora will help a lot as you start to run into stuff that one-shots you. Naturally as you progress beyond them with Mora eventually run into enemies that will one-shot you once again, but like said above, this will always be the signature of your character's limit, partly because of the current GR system, enemy scaling and offense generally being better than defense for progression.

          • Most sports have salary caps, preventing the whole buying victory thing. No idea about car racing though.

            Regardless, the point is nothing, be it one build vs another or one character vs another could be objectively measured without using the same baseline. Which means the only way GRs in their current form could work is if 2-x people get EXACTLY THE SAME MAP and then race through separate versions of that map.

            Which means it fails at a large scale competition unless you make the maps static.

            If you are consistently getting 2 or 3 in a GR 25 you are luckier than most, additionally the average for T6 is 3 or slightly higher and they are completed faster on account of GRs banning every good map = low density, lots of running = more time, as well as wasted time on trials.

            The problem with that gem is very basic. You take a large hit. You instant proc. But with that gem you keep taking damage and even if the bug is actually fixed, it could very well proc you again/kill you. Especially if Monk or WD because your revives bring you back at low life.

            Given there are a few attacks capable of this on T6 (sans Unity) it follows you'll see them as low as level 30 with it.

    • I don't think that defensive gems are on a bad spot now, in comparison with the rest of the game (the auto-salvage legs, the majority of crafting plans, a bunch of unused skills, "helltooth set and friends", etc.) – rumor has that some player, somewhere, will enjoy them due to his alternate playstyle since he just plays Blizz games without paying attention to the internet buzz, efficiency, forum guides, etc.

      If the "promoting innef… alternate playstyles" thing is important, I don't see defensive gems as a huge problem. They are just another thing on the "so useless, but dat potential" list, imo.

      I wouldn't mind if one ends up making the "2 of. + 1 def. gem combination on gear" a thing, but, personally, I would rather have boon of the hoarder on GRs again. Even getting stuck on lower levels, it was so cool…

  2. Implying that their servers would fall over if they added another stash tab is really weird. Sure it means a larger database and a little more memory per game, but we're talking kilobytes per player. If they can't handle this technically, they've done something very wrong.

    • I think we simply don't know enough (or really anything at all) about the actual implementation of items to say anything about this. However, I think it's very unlikely that even a single item only requires a few kilobytes of memory. That may be true for the data structure that represents it, but then you're forgetting about all the assets required to actually present them in-game.

        • Yes, but I actually think the implication was that it's the clients that couldn't handle more items, not the servers. Remember the fairly recent bug, where opening your inventory caused a few second long frame drop? Given that currently sometimes item icons are missing when I open my inventory I think the solution was to simply delay their loading to memory. Clearly, the clients already experience item related issues as it is.

    • I would trade the extra char slots on the DDE for stash tabs any day. In my head, when I bought DDE, I bought "D3X and a DLC with more storage space in a clunky way". I kinda paid for extra space once. In my head.

      Maybe DDE + CE took less space on servers than "tabs to everyone", and there was the price tag. I'm not calling bull. on the stash answer (like HardRock said, "we don't know enough"), but I think it's weird. Maybe it's more an interface decision/weird potential stability issue than anything else, but still…

  3. I really hope they don't adjust the cost of entering regular rifts or the amount of keys obtained per bounty bag clear. As it stands, if I'm farming well, it takes me maybe a few hours to farm up 100 keys through bounties and then about 5x that same amount of time to use them all. It feels like a good ratio, as long as the majority of time is spent in rifts, rather than farming for access to them.

    If they DO adjust it though, then maybe it would force some use of all the damn trial keys that drop.

    Either way, I would like to see changes to Bounties to make them more compelling, but it doesn't seem like that'll be a thing. At least with Sescheron we should have new bounties in A3?

    • Personally, I'm not eager to do the Kill Malthael or the act 3's "dungeon of depression lvl 2" bounty. I kinda like act 4 bounties more than I should, but kill Diablo is boring.

      Imo, since they are creating new bounties, they should revisit old ones (make Diablo bounty only the phase 3 of Diablo fight, drop you on the path to Malthael, remove the barracks and the spider cavern bounties – sometimes I feel I would rather clear cesspolls instead of doing those…)

      • Instead of removing bounties, I'd rather see a lot of additions to the lists of available bounties (, including bounties in new event areas created both for adventure and story mode). What's needed to break up those pesky streaks of spider cavern reptitions, though, would be a system blocking bounties having occured three times during the last five game creations to not roll again on following bounty run rolls for a short while.

    • I think the only change Bounties need is more interesting and useful exclusive Legendaries from caches. Some could work even with a straight up buff. Given that RRoG is the sole reason people run Act 1 I think people could be persuaded with better rewards to leave Act 4 for the other Acts (even Act 5) when they aren't merely looking to farm Rift Keystones efficiently.

  4. I really really hope weapon gems got asked about in part 2. That’s something that is very important to everybody. Emeralds have sat on their throne for far too long. Variety variety variety.

  5. Great interview, Flux. I really hope their philosophy on bounties doesn't remain the same as they can be extremely boring and as mentioned, people only do Act 1.

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