The Design Behind Super Mario Odyssey | Game Maker’s Toolkit


If there’s one company I’ve talked about
more than any other on this channel – it’s Nintendo. Their games are fun, wildly inventive, always
accessible, and – most importantly – precision designed, giving us a wealth of awesome game
design lessons that can be used by anyone. And so, with the recent release of Super Mario
Odyssey, I thought this would be a good opportunity to recap everything we’ve learned about
the company so far – to see how Nintendo’s design lessons have been applied to Mario’s
latest adventure. So, Mario Odyssey is the latest game to adhere
to Nintendo’s most fundamental design philosophy, which I explored in this video. In short – Nintendo often starts making a
game by coming up with some interesting new way to play, like shooting ink in Splatoon,
or using the vacuum cleaner in Luigi’s Mansion. This gimmick then becomes the core of the
game, with pretty much everything else being used to support and frame that delicious nugget
of interactivity. What’s the core of Odyssey? Well, ultimately, it’s this… The hat throw. In the game, you can press a button to make
Mario throw his hat in the direction you’re facing. And you can also hold down that same button
to make the hat spin in place. This basic move, according to director Kenta Motokura, was “part of the game right from the beginning” – and it went on to inform almost every other piece of design in the game. For one, the hat throw is Mario’s new attack. Nintendo has always known that jumping on
a tiny target like a Goomba is tough to pull off in 3D, so Mario has different ways to
attack his enemies in these games like the kick in Super Mario 64, the FLUDD in Sunshine,
the spin in Mario Galaxy, and now the hat throw in Odyssey. Of course, most creatures in Odyssey aren’t
there to be defeated – but to be captured. This lets Mario take over an enemy, or a taxi
or a dinosaur, and use their unique abilities. It’s essentially Odyssey’s version of
the power-up, but this allows for entirely new mechanics and ways of playing – instead
of adding to Mario’s existing move set. Now, some of these things are brilliant. The Tropical Wiggler and the Gushen and the
Pokio are so much fun to control that each one could sustain an entire Snake Pass-style
indie game. But Odyssey has a whole cast of different
capture targets, because this mechanic needs to impact every element of the game. So there are things that you capture to increase
Mario’s platforming abilities, things you capture for combat purposes, and all sorts
of things you capture to solve puzzles – like guiding Goombas to shy lady Goombas. Goombettes. Now, this does slightly break the simplicity
of the game – because each target can completely change the way the game works and Odyssey
needs to pop up a tutorial at the bottom of the screen to detail the new controls. But there’s a couple things to keep in mind. One, is that Mario often has loads of things
he can do in his games, except, they almost always exist as distinct and separate states. You can’t be a fire flower Mario in a half
bee suit, half squirrel suit, throwing boomerangs. And, likewise, you can only capture one thing
at a time, in Odyssey. This means the game has lots of ways of playing,
but without the complexity of controlling a character who is capable of performing 20
different actions with different button presses. But also, Nintendo is careful to reveal these
mechanics with its usual step-by-step introduction. Take the Uproots – a sort of cabbage on telescopic
silts – found in Steam Gardens. When you first find these guys, you’ll use
them for very simple platforming tasks – before using them for more complex challenges later
in the stage. And finally – a boss. You see, even though Mario Odyssey has an
open, sandbox design, each level still has a critical path that lets Nintendo slowly
ramp up a challenge from beginning to end. In Tostarena, you’ll start by messing around
with capturing bullet bills down here in the ruins, before guiding them through more difficult
sections later in the stage, and then using them – in spirit, at least – against the boss. You’ll also notice this sort of design in
the game’s sub areas, where a single idea is introduced and then remixed over and over
again in more complicated and difficult variations. After you’ve finished a level, new elements
and shortcuts are added to let you explore freely and without needing to follow the same
linear path that you took at the beginning of the stage. Now, in any other game, I feel like that would
be it for the hat. It’s simply your way of capturing enemies. But we should never forget that classic Miyamoto
quote, “A good idea is something that does not solve just one single problem, but rather
can solve multiple problems at once.” Proper dual purpose design stuff. So, in this game, the hat throw is also linked
to your platforming. Now I’ve spoken before about the expressive
and versatile nature of Mario’s jump. Because this isn’t just a jump but a rich
toolbox of moves that can be used and combined – letting the player put together the perfect
sequence of leaps for any situation – whether that’s covering a huge gap, dodging a difficult
enemy, or quickly saving yourself from danger. And in Mario Odyssey, that toolbox includes
the long jump, triple jump, wall jump, ground pound jump, backward somersault, sideways
somersault, and dive. It’s one of Mario’s most extensive move lists
in his history. But the hat expands your options even further
– for one, it works a bit like the spin move in Mario Galaxy, because throwing the hat
pushes Mario up a tiny bit, and keeps him in the air for a bit longer, giving you a
tiny bit of leeway on tricky jumps. It also immediately reorients Mario in mid-air,
so you can bounce away from a wall, then throw your hat backwards, and dive on top of the
wall – similar to Sunshine, where you can use FLUDD to swing back onto a wall you just
bounced away from. And, finally, Mario can also step, jump or
dive onto his hat, to spring off – again, increasing the height and distance of his
leap. But, even better is that this move can be
chained into Mario’s already bursting move set. So, you can cover an enormous distance by
doing a long jump, then throwing out your hat, and diving onto it. You can even do another throw and another
dive after that, letting you leap all the way between buildings in New Donk City. This stuff gives you an enormous set of options
for tackling each part of the game, as you decide whether to find some safe way to access
an area – or try to use your moveset to get to the same place quicker and with more style. There are even areas that are only accessible
to those with real mastery of the controls, and Nintendo is careful to reward anyone who
gets up there. You’ll also need to be masterful with the
controls when doing certain late-game challenges, like these Koopa races. Here, I’m completely going off the main
track and using a whole bunch of different jumps to get to the goal before the other
racers. The company’s current take on difficulty,
after all, seems to be to make the main game pretty easy and accessible – and then add
additional challenges, after the credits roll, for more dedicated players to tackle. Beyond combat, capturing, and platforming,
Mario also interacts with the world in different ways by throwing his hat. You can open doors, collect coins, and pull
switches by chucking your hat. And you’ll notice that many coin blocks
are now on the ground, instead of in the air, further establishing that this isn’t a game
about jumping – but about throwing your hat. Oh, but in general, anything that would take
control of the game away for a transition or a dialogue screen, like taking to a character
or calling a Jaxi, is done through the A button to make sure you don’t accidentally throw
your hat at something that would halt the game. So, what’s the benefit of making one mechanic
so central to the entire game? Well, for one it means Mario Odyssey can provide
depth and complexity, with only three buttons and a control stick. You don’t need separate inputs for producing
a trampoline, attacking enemies, pulling switches, and possessing characters if they’re all
the same action. And yeah, there’s also some motion-controlled
moves, which you can’t really do when the Switch is in portable mode and, well, let’s
just pretend those don’t exist. At least they’re almost entirely optional. There’s also hardly any confusion about
how to interact with something in the world. If in doubt, just throw your hat. There’s not much else you can do, after
all. This removes what Anna Anthropy calls “orphaned
verbs” which are so specific and unique that “the player has forgotten about it
by the time they reach the one situation that demands it”. And really, it just gives the game an amazing
sense of cohesion. Nintendo games might be weird and unpredictable,
but they’re not just a messy hodgepodge of random ideas and mechanics. There’s always a certain unity to the entire
package. And, to tie this all together, the unique
gameplay is often reflected in the game’s presentation. Take Splatoon’s punky aesthetic, which came
from the graffiti-style ink mechanic. Or Mario Sunshine’s tropical groove, which
was inspired by the super soaker gameplay. There’s certainly some of that in Mario
Odyssey, with a race of hat-like creatures, living in a hat-based kingdom, flying hat-shaped
crafts around the world. And everyone in the game is wearing hats,
from this tiny dog’s fedora to Princess Peach’s tiara. Enemies wear hats too – and that’s not just
an aesthetic thing, but a way of signalling that you’ll need to hit an enemy twice to
capture them. In fact, the more hats a boss character is
wearing, the harder they’ll be. And that’s ridiculous. But it’s also amazing how much sense it
intuitively makes. And then, of course, there’s Cappy. Because, you’re not just throwing a hat,
but a cheeky chap who transforms into Mario’s cap. And, Nintendo has a long tradition of turning
its more outlandish gameplay mechanics into characters – I mean, this isn’t even the
first talking hat in Nintendo’s history. So, Mario’s water gun in Sunshine was a
talking robot called FLUDD, and in Mario 64, this wild, new-fangled invention called the
camera, was given character in the form of a Lakitu camera man. This helps to ground these ideas in the game
world, and make them feel organic instead of cold, mechanical, gameplay entities. In Mario Galaxy, instead of having a user
interface tell you when Mario’s spin move has recharged, you simply see the Luma under
Mario’s hat pop up. Oh, and while we’re talking about game design
impacting aesthetics, I should point out that many of the game’s kingdoms were designed
specifically to house the new gameplay mechanics that Nintendo’s designers came up with. Motokura told The Verge, “when we had all
of those different prototypes, those different play ideas, we also started thinking, ‘Well
what kind of location can this fit into? What kind of location would be fun for this
play idea?’ For example, if we came up with a gameplay
idea that kind of required ice or snow, maybe a slippery surface, we would have to think
that would be fun to use in a place that had ice or snow.” Now these kingdoms work like the sandbox levels
in Mario 64 and Sunshine, but at times the game feels closer to a very different Nintendo
game – Zelda: Breath of the Wild. These two games are dotted with intriguing
sights and shapes, teasing you to explore every nook and cranny as you satisfy your
curiosity about what’s over the horizon, or around the corner. Still, Mario’s stages are definitely more
densely packed than Zelda’s sprawling Hyrule. Probably the biggest change from 64 and Sunshine
to Odyssey though, other than the frankly ludicrous increase in the number of collectibles,
is that collecting a moon doesn’t shunt you out of the level and back to a hub world. You just keep going, letting you bounce around
the level, sniffing out more collectibles and secrets. Now, there’s one final thing that Nintendo
likes to do in a game that’s so heavily built around a single mechanic. And that’s to take it away. They give you a wonderful new gameplay tool
that’s powerful and adaptable – and then suddenly remove it and see how you get on
without it. The same thing happens in Odyssey, when you
have to hang up your hat to explore certain areas. And there are also enemies who don’t take
kindly to being captured, like these explosive enemies who grab your hat and then fly back
at Mario, or piranha plants that eat Cappy and you must stomp on the plant’s head to
let your hat free. These might force you to use Mario’s other
abilities, or just add a surprising new wrinkle to the way the game has worked up until this
point. So, I think that’s Mario Odyssey in a nut
shell. A game this good doesn’t just come out of
nowhere, but it’s the product of applying Nintendo’s most treasured design philosophies
when it comes to level design, difficulty, game mechanics, and more. Stick them altogether and you get a game filled
with endless curiosity, clever mechanics that are explored to their full extent, an incredibly
fun and versatile movement system, and a certain sense of cohesion that ties everything together
and makes even the most weird and disparate elements feel like part of a greater whole. Mario Odyssey ain’t perfect, but it’s
certainly one the very best games of the year and anyone interested in Nintendo’s design
would be smart to dive deep into this game’s many treasures. Hey thanks for watching! GMTK is Patreon-powered and these are my top
tier supporters. Just a reminder that every week, on a Wednesday,
I’m live-streaming games here on YouTube. We’ve played Mario Odyssey, Shadow of War,
Heat Signature, Cuphead, and more. It’s a good time with a nice group of viewers
watching and chatting about the game so make sure you’re subscribed to the channel so
you get a notification when I go live. Cheers.

100 comments

  • cloud aw

    what's the name of the game right at the beginning?

    Reply
  • instanceTu

    Märio

    Reply
  • GiveMeShrubs

    odyssey's mechanics and content are amazing, but the reward system is completely broken.

    Reply
  • Eleos

    mayeo

    Reply
  • catlover67803

    Mayrio's Kep

    Reply
  • Bob J

    What do you think about Cave Story’s level design? I feel like it has some design to talk about.

    Reply
  • Jan Michael Vincent

    Super Mario galaxy is too complicated for me ?

    Reply
  • Nick Long

    Dude… the music at the end took me back so hard.

    Reply
  • Jacob Isonell

    Can someone tell him that his pronouncing the word "Mario" wrong?

    Reply
  • sixfittyonembitties

    I'll wait for the price drop to get this one because I'm not intrigued by the hat feature and I've been hearing it's pretty easy.

    Reply
  • Cool Orange Fox

    Didn't they make the Cap Throw a main feature and then they made it alive and named Cappy?

    Reply
  • Friendly Stranger

    I'm not gay but I have experience with such large things.

    Reply
  • The Priest Of Kirb

    Ezlo from the Minish Cap

    Reply
  • CJ B

    Mario inspired Kirby, Kirby inspired mario:D

    Reply
  • King_Oskar

    2:39 I reached this point, I like the game already, but I wonder, why some people do not like the game just because it does not feel like a mario game?

    Reply
  • stranger stlye

    In Mario odyssey Mario can capture more than one thing at a time in the ending cutscene Mario as bowser captures a electric pole and stays as bowser

    Reply
  • B O N K O N T H E H E A D

    Let’s be honest here, who actually looks at the little Luma to see when your Spin recharges?

    Reply
  • Vlad Patrascu

    3:02 oh really what about the ending

    Reply
  • Chimichanga

    I like how he says “Mario”!

    Reply
  • FairerPlayz

    Whenever I play 3d world I try to hat bounce instinctively

    Reply
  • Chris Phillips

    Arms I play that

    Reply
  • Jacob Mason

    2:50 No, but you can be a Skating White Gold Tanooki Mario with a Propeller Box.

    Reply
  • Alex WILLIAM E. Gleich

    Thank you for the great insight into Super Mario Odyssey!

    Reply
  • Gigastar

    8:10
    "There is almost a certain UNITY to the package"
    nintendo switch games 2018 in a nutshell

    Reply
  • TheElectricCav

    9:23: Alright, I need to ask one thing… who's filming Lakitu? x-files theme plays

    Reply
  • Necrobones Gaming

    Personally, my biggest problem with Odyssey is that they could very, very easily have cut the number of moons to 350 or less and made them truly feel special to get, but instead, they bloat every 5 inches of each kingdom and it just makes moons feel like glorified coins. Multi-moons were the only ones that felt good to get after like, 5 hours or so of gameplay.

    Other than that, great game for countless reasons.

    Reply
  • Commander Vander

    I love Nintendo’s difficulty system :3

    Reply
  • Marci Turáni

    This is Pokemon now.

    Reply
  • KuroAno

    I know of some people that didn't like the game. Maybe because it's no longer a game about running in a level to the end where you get a star but a collectathon where the level is a playground to find a lot of moons, in the same way as Banjo Kazooie where you try to find puzzle pieces and music notes to get to a new part of the hub world and a new level or more recently Yooka Laylee, where you have to get pagies to expand a world or access to a new one and quills to unlock new abilities. The goal is no more to get from point A to point B but to get a certain amount of a key item to proceed.

    Reply
  • •FrozenSurf •

    You should do Paper Mario and how it's battle system is one of it's amazing strengths.

    Reply
  • Selrahcthewise

    Was that dungeon man in the desert?

    Reply
  • Magikarpoon

    You're like snomangaming and extra credit combined and I love both of those channels!

    Reply
  • Timothy Smith

    This is why I love Nintendo so much. They're not afraid to try new things and they so cleverly implement the idea in so many different and fun game mechanics. This is also why I hate when people say, "it's just another Mario game. They all play the same."
    I also love how they gave Mario different costume options in this one. It adds homage to previous titles/characters and is also fun dressing up Mario in different outfits.

    Reply
  • Sion Forgeblast

    in Odyssey, they tuned Mario into a Hat Fortess 2 game HAH! XD

    Reply
  • runforitman

    2:32 Oh no this was the precursor
    Bowsette
    Booette

    Reply
  • Adam Roberts

    I'm 1 year late Mark but
    "mechanics that are explored to their full extent"
    ehhhhhhhhshhhhh
    please stick to being 100% factual, I feel like it would suit your style of videos better. sorry, I just had to point that out.

    Reply
  • Eddie Zhuang

    Why is super mario 3d world in the description instead of odessy?

    Reply
  • my google brand account :I

    the ‘cabbage on telescopic stilts’ is a ​tomatillo

    Reply
  • Tony Hanna

    This makes me want to play Mario Odyssey again.

    Reply
  • Unknown Unknown

    One year later

    Reply
  • Kendallonian

    Towards the end this video feels like a review of Mario Odyssey rather than an analysis of it's mechanics. Of course, that makes sense because Mark Brown is first and foremost a game critic.

    Reply
  • Jerome Alday

    His hair is evil

    Reply
  • saksağan

    they put lotta collectibles everywhere which arent hidden hoping that people would enjoy it this is stupid

    Reply
  • TheWingedPotato

    Am I the only one who looks at 3D Mario and thinks "What the fuck happened to this series?"

    I miss 2-d platforming

    Reply
  • Interg

    13 minutes of some guy mispronouncing "Mario".

    Reply
  • JSH7

    marryo

    Reply
  • Joseph Mulkern

    mehrio

    Reply
  • Just Honest

    Great video, great analysis! ?

    Reply
  • Parker Faux

    This game is so, so good. I may be a year late to the party, but I don't even care. It's just that good.

    Reply
  • LeO MarinO 47

    No hay español latinoamericano? A la espera para ver el video, saludos y gracias

    Reply
  • ConTron Games

    The first episode of game makers toolkit was the Cuphead episode (I think) and now I’m hooked. These are so detailed and informative. I want to be a programmer, and this is actually teaching me a lot. Thank you.

    Reply
  • Nickster Studios

    nintendo is the pixar of gaming.

    Reply
  • Marcelo Lopes

    Nossa, um dos melhores canais de games que ja vi.

    Muito obrigado Arthur por legendar os videos pra portugues.

    Reply
  • IamMe

    I think it is important to take away mechanics both for variety reasons and also to promote appreciation. After all you don't know that you love something until you lost it.

    Reply
  • Gyra Solune

    The level design is generally very effective in this game. It's wide-open but even without constant reminders, the places you 'need' to go in the game are obvious – it's almost always the tallest and most dramatic thing you can find, or, failing that, the second tallest. They're really good at making effective centerpieces around which the entire world revolves and escalates to, and the layouts are usually very memorable and intuitive. The only ones that did a middling job at that principle were the Wooded and Snow Kingdoms, and, well, they do ultimately kind of fall a little flat.

    I really wanted to like the Wooded Kingdom a lot, it's such a great theme, but I do have to say it's the one place that really could've been structured a little more clearly. It's telling that it's where the map is almost entirely useless, and the 'dark woods' section was actually a little frustrating.

    Reply
  • Vinytt

    accessible? Don't know where you live, but here nintendo games cost a fortune
    still, great video as always, keep up the good work

    Reply
  • Lucas Féres

    Recap haha, nice one! That's why i love Nintendo games, creativity and innovation are priorities. Big companies like EA should take notes here…

    Reply
  • Joel Andrews

    ALSO, WHAT ABOUT 2D? 2D pipes are scattered throughout the world, giving you a sneak peak into what Mario was like. They incorporate the 2D elements into the level quite well, whether it be on a rock face, an ice sheet, or even a mural on a ruin. They even based a marathon of just 2D in New Donk City.

    Reply
  • RGA

    I pray for them to make a Mario Odyssey 2!!!

    Reply
  • Toasturhz toastbunz

    Great video. Despite me not really liking the game that much personally..

    Reply
  • 「Pinorska」

    Honestly I agree with that the movement is good and intuitive, however I think that posession mechanics are just glorified power ups and odyssey has way too much of filler moons that reward you for no reason.

    Reply
  • Mike Rogge

    The dinosaur hat thing is a meet the robinsons reference.

    Reply
  • QuantumHornet

    I love the freedom of movement in this fame and all the trickjumps

    Reply
  • QuantumHornet

    I love the freedom of movement in this fame and all the trickjumps

    Reply
  • Jack Morrison

    11:41 FULL EXTEND

    Reply
  • AlphaCraft5

    10:29 it's super appropriate that the lord of the mountain was there at that time. XD

    Reply
  • Scriptminer

    Thanks for the video, really interesting to see a little about how Nintendo goes about game design!

    Reply
  • Random Derpy Family

    Goombets?

    Reply
  • Random Derpy Family

    So you can’t be a Squirrel breathing fire With a boomerang in its hands with bee wings with a stinger on its tail,Stripes on red and blue and a Mario?

    Reply
  • Hey Nate

    Hi Mark you ever think of collaborating with @lessonsfromthescreeplay ? Would be cool if you guys discussed games that have a cinematic feel to them and what makes them great. You me guy aesthetic are very similar

    Reply
  • The Legend of Link

    Bowsers hair in oddysey tho

    Reply
  • Drake P.

    8:47 tf2 in a nutshell

    Reply
  • DisKorruptd

    I love how, while other consoles and companies do the same system with new games, they instead make new systems for the same games, we all know who Mario is, so they dont have to make a name for him, they just keep us interested by giving us new toys to play with to see how he interacts with them

    Reply
  • TheDaanVD

    holy damn this game was 2017

    Reply
  • Leon Trotski

    Am I the only one who hates smash

    Reply
  • Fank_Dank

    0:56 what is this, games explained with food.

    Reply
  • shatterjack

    Hang on a minute, why isn't it perfect?

    Reply
  • Polarbear Frost S

    qwq I wish I had a development team.

    Reply
  • Soundboard

    I think you might mean Banjo kazooie because let's face facts, odyssey copied alot from them

    Reply
  • Robert Steinberger

    orphaned verbs like the cryonis rune?

    Reply
  • JaayOnPC

    Nintendo are just the best for making games

    Reply
  • ANlevant

    Damn, I just watched every single video in this channel.. I'm addicted!

    Reply
  • Sad Toast

    I wonder what the gimic of the next 3D MARIO game

    Reply
  • Spartan Q77

    God I need to get a Switch and play this already. Sucks to be broke.

    Reply
  • Alduin

    I wanna see Cappy Mario with Fludd in low gravity with spin jump. I can’t be the only one.

    Reply
  • rtyuik7

    one thing i loved about SMO is all the tricky shortcuts that i attempted, as in, before i saw anything Online about it, finding these things myself (like a complex long cap jumping shortcut to the top of a cliff in the lakebed kingdom)…and i thought i was So Clever for finding my way to this 'secret spot' like it was Out Of Bounds or something…

    …but Nintendo put a big pile of Coins there, or Cappy will chime in with some kind of "Whoa! Nice Jump!" if you do it right…in other words, They Knew that i would try to be sneaky…Nintendo KNEW that speedrunners would rip the game apart to shave seconds…so instead of crumbling to dust, the game just rolls with it…

    Reply
  • Ryan Parreno

    Great video but I feel that you have seriously limited the scope of your analysis by pretending the motion controls do not exist

    Reply
  • Graham Nichols

    Entertaining family-friendly games are the key to their success.

    Reply
  • Citizen Goose

    In this game you get to control a chunk of meat

    Reply
  • Fly 5

    The team fortress 2 of mario games.

    Reply
  • ExplodingJellyfish

    11:25 This would have been the perfect moment to show mario getting a moon from a nut in the Wooded Kingdom. It would have been so amazing.

    Reply
  • InjusticeHater

    The one thing I did not like about this game was the quantity of moons. While some are cleverly hidden the game became a marathon collect a thon, reminding me of the bad thing about DK64.
    In the end many of the many moons were purely annoying to collect.
    In Mario64 almost every star was a real reward you had to work hard for (at least when you didn´t know what to do). In Odyssey they keep throwing moons at you just for the sake of it.
    It is an artificial game bloat that could have been handled differently to be more fun.
    I even did not feel rewarded for collecting them and I hated having spent a lot at first to buy those extra moons in the shops (at first I thought I had to buy 10 in every stage to collect them all).

    Reply
  • 1Thunderfire

    Nintendo sure love their hats!

    Reply
  • Lord of Banana

    I tried abandoning Cappy by leaving him in piranha plants and running as far as possible on several occasions. Some other times i stood close by and watched Cappy getting eaten by the plant while screaming for help with his annoying voice. I love the mechanic but i hate the "character" of Cappy, his voice and eyes just annoy me.

    Reply
  • Hipsterpants Gladstone

    Oh my favorite the funny man MAARIOH

    Reply
  • Wahyu Setiawan

    or a TREE!!!!!

    Reply
  • Cat Mario

    "the level design at least for me is taken directly from its predecessor on the wii u super mario 3d world"

    Reply
  • Bryan de Sá

    Great indeed

    Reply
  • Frikibase

    So, if video games are literally video games, why don't just focus in gameplay?
    * (Applause for Nintendo =D )

    Reply
  • Pankaj Sharma

    Man u have done a lot of work to make this video. Great Job!

    Reply

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