Why 1998 Was the Best Year in Gaming

The classics take to 3D.

520 Comments

Which year was the best in video game history? Which 12 month period had the biggest releases and the most influential games? Join us over the next few days as we look back in time at five of the most outstanding years in games. Today, we look at 1998.

1998 was a year of firsts. The first narrative-driven shooter. The first three-dimensional Legend of Zelda game. The first modern stealth simulator. The first Japanese role-playing game that would drive us to catch them all. The first game to emulate cinematic techniques and direction. And the first RPG from a developer that has now become the genre's leader.

And 1998 was the year 3D technology began to mature. The first version of the Unreal engine was released with Epic's first-person shooter of the same name; the technology would go on to power hundreds of games including BioShock, Gears of War, and Mass Effect. It was the year Rockstar Games was founded, the year Sega made the leap from the Saturn to the Dreamcast in its home territory and began the next generation of the time. No matter who you were, or what system you owned, the following list shows 1998 was the year in which there was something truly incredible for everyone to play.


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Half-Life | Valve

Valve's debut game showed us that narrative in a first-person shooter didn't need to only be delivered through cutscenes and dialogue, but could be delivered through the environment itself. Half-Life placed you at the center of a catastrophic event; an alien invasion launched through a dimensional tear deep in an underground research facility. The sense of place that Valve builds over the course of the entire game, through environmental interactivity and scripted events that blend naturally and seamlessly with combat and exploration, is impactful even today. There is a reason that a third instalment in the series is so desperately wanted: because even in 1998, Valve were masters of their craft.


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The Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time | Nintendo EAD

Though Sony came to market with the 3D-capable console first, they didn't share Nintendo's burden of figuring out how to recreate classic gaming franchises with a new dimension. But Nintendo was up to the task, first redefining platforming with Super Mario 64, and next, bringing The Legend of Zelda to life in 3D with The Ocarina of Time. The series' hallmark sense of scale and grand adventure was all the more prominent when exploring a 3D Hyrule, and the new dimension allowed for the creation of new kinds of spatial awareness puzzles we had never tackled before. The Ocarina of Time was also one of the first games to use context-sensitive actions on a single button, so its legacy is felt throughout almost every action-adventure game today.


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Banjo-Kazooie | Rare

Though it was Super Mario 64 that showed how platformers could work in 3D, it was Rare who took that formula and greatly expanded upon it. Banjo-Kazooie's world was massive, rendered with gorgeous style that pushed the Nintendo 64 to its limit, and full of colourful and quirky characters spouting clever and humorous dialogue. Banjo and Kazooie themselves were gifted with numerous abilities that complemented one another in interesting ways, while additional abilities were unlocked the further into game you progressed--something entirely new for the time. Put simply, Banjo-Kazooie is Rare at their best.


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StarCraft: Brood War | Blizzard

Both the original StarCraft, and its expansion pack, Brood War, were released in 1998, so we're combining the two into this single entry. It's for good reason: though the vanilla StarCraft release was a seminal real-time strategy game at launch, it wasn't until Brood War that the game's three-race interplay was strong enough to spearhead the formation of the competitive gaming scene as we know it today. Without StarCraft and Brood War, it's arguable we would not have as strong and vibrant an eSports scene as we do now. Brood War is the chess of the gaming world: deep enough that a plethora of strategies continued to come to the fore, whilst being simple enough that it could kick off as a spectator sport.


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Grim Fandango | LucasArts

Despite the fact that there isn't any actual pointing and clicking going on, Grim Fandango is considered to be the pinnacle of the point-and-click adventure. As with other genres at the time, adventure games were in the process of figuring out how to make the move to 3D. Though Grim Fandango won't be remembered for its 3D movement controls, it did opt for a design that removed any kind of interface from the game and replaced it with in-world equivalents for things like inventory management. Beyond this, the game's tone, mature narrative, creative art direction and excellent soundtrack crafted a memorable journey through the underworld.


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Thief: The Dark Project | Looking Glass Studios

Thief: The Dark Project pioneered the modern stealth genre as we know it today. It was one of the first games to utilise light and shadow for concealment in a 3D environment, whilst also allowing you to snuff out torches and create more darkness to hide yourself in. Different floor surfaces also created noises at different volumes when walked on, which forced you to play close attention to the beautifully rendered steampunk world. Guards and civilians would exhibit natural reactions to your presence, while written material and conversations to eavesdrop on furthered the story organically. Much of what The Dark Project did forms the basis for any modern immersive first-person game.


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Baldur's Gate | BioWare

This is where the BioWare's history with RPGs begins. Baldur's Gate was the developer's first foray into role-playing, and was an essential part of the revival of the genre on PC. It was also a game that successfully translated the complex Dungeons & Dragons ruleset into something that worked well on the platform, making its stats-heavy backbone accurate and accessible. With a massive open world to explore and quests with varied outcomes, Baldur's Gate defined what we would come to know as the BioWare formula--something that would be expanded upon and refined in all of the developer's subsequent RPGs.


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Pokemon Red & Pokemon Blue | Game Freak

The worldwide phenomenon that is Pokemon sported relatively humble beginnings on the original Game Boy. Pokemon Red and Pokemon Blue took the Japanese RPG formula and turned the party composition aspect into a game about catching its fantastical wildlife. But this wasn't purely about cosmetic choice or personal preference; every Pokemon conformed to a surprisingly deep battle system that rewarded effective use of the interplay between elements and attack types. This wasn't a game about saving the world, or defeating a villain; it was about becoming the best you could be. The fact that we are still trying to catch 'em all in 2014 is a testament to the success of these original games.


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Metal Gear Solid | KCEJ

Though the original Metal Gear was one of the first stealth games, Metal Gear Solid--the series' PlayStation debut--isn't remembered as strongly for its contributions to the stealth genre. No, Metal Gear Solid is remembered as one of the first truly cinematic videogames. Its numerous, lengthy cutscenes dramatically recreated filmic techniques, and its characters were brought to life with complete voice acting. The game even broke the fourth wall in clever ways that had never been done before, thanks to the features of the original PlayStation hardware. This cinematic style has persisted for the rest of the Metal Gear Solid series, resulting in one of the most dramatic stories ever told in gaming.

Do you think 1998 was the best year for games? Did we miss any other outstanding games released that year? Sound off in the comments below! And don't forget to come back over the next few days for more Best Year in Gaming features.

Check out our previous Best Year in Gaming features below:

Why 1993 Was the Best Year in Gaming

Why 1996 Was the Best Year in Gaming

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Meracalos

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Edited By Meracalos

Crash Bandicoot 3: Warped!

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tunit000

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You forgot Rainbow Six the original PC game! COME ON!!

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TRMDYL

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What a wonderful year for gaming! I get tears in my eyes when I think of those golden years.

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0m39AX

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Where are Radiant Silvergun, Panzer Dragoon Saga, King of Fighters 98 and Metal Slug 2?

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VeiNpl

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You forgot to mention Fallout 2 :/

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Grenadehh

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I love BG more than the next guy but if you're actually saying its the genre's leader....no.

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StHapns247

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With games like Half-Life, MGS, Ocarina of Time, Pokemon, and StarCraft 1998's impact on the next decade+ of video games cannot be ignored. Essentially every major title for the last 15 years can have their influence traced back to 1998. Obviously many can be traced back even further, but 1998 was a major milestone year where almost every major genre was impacted.

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x-2tha-z

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2004 was better.

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Disciple_Gamer

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1998 basically laid the groundwork for the games to follow for the next 10 years. Half-Life, MGS and Zelda OOT are timeless classics.

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ixmardukxi

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1998 and 2007 are my favourites

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bultje112

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where is resident evil 2?

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alex_aaa789

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Where is Heretic 2?

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Red_hot_smasher

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Pokémon Red/Green/Blue were initially released in 1996 in Japan, and therefore technically do not belong on this list.

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sambucca

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Erm; Panzer Dragoon Saga?

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Zeus

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1998 probably has one of the stronger cases for best year in gaming history. Pokemon was an absolute merchandising juggernaut, OoT is still widely regarded as one of the best games of all time (something I don't really agree with, but whatever), and StarCraft was huge as well.

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Shantmaster_K

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Good year, but I still think 2007 is better.

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HipHopBeats

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I agree with this one. Metal Gear Solid and Zelda OOT took gaming to new heights for me.

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crognalsen

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I've only played Baldur's Gate and Starcraft out of this list. I never liked the Starcraft series even though I know it's a bit hit around the world. I always preferred the artwork and humor of the warcraft strategy games. I missed out on the half life and thief series of games. I plan to give them a try soon, but it's always difficult to appreciate old graphics and game mechanics. I was probably to busy playing Baldur's Gate and Ultima Online to bother with other games.

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algoody421

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Wrong answer, 1991, Tecmo super bowl, Civilization, sonic, Street Fighter 2, Final Fantasy IV(FF2 in america, first on snes), The simpsons arcade, wwf wrestlefest arcade, Legend of zelda, Fatal Fury- King of fighters, Streets of Rage, Battle Toads, Road Rash, Captain america and the avengers arcade, Super mario world, f zero. Not to mention, halo, doom/wolfenstein 3d and warcraft/starcraft are never made if 1991 doesnt create their companies.(bungie, id, blizzard)..

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Grenadehh

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<< LINK REMOVED >> Yea no. We're talking about the best year in terms of influence and industry effect. A year entirely full of side scrolling beatem ups and platformers with a few RPGs and other genres thrown in isn't important. PS Bungie and iD and blizzard were around before 1991.

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TheSilverApe

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<< LINK REMOVED >> Everyone has their opinion of the Best Year in Gaming, no wrong answer. << LINK REMOVED >> Bungie, id and blizzard were all founded in 1991. Next time use Google before commenting.

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Grenadehh

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<< LINK REMOVED >><< LINK REMOVED >><< LINK REMOVED >> False. There's a wrong answer because it's not a matter of opinion. Learn how superlative adjectives work.

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thegreatiandi

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If I could like this post twice, I would have

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Altares36

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Where's Starsiege: Tribes!

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yaminogun

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<< LINK REMOVED >> my favorit is starsiege 1999

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Grenadehh

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<< LINK REMOVED >><< LINK REMOVED >> You mean just Starsiege.

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yaminogun

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<< LINK REMOVED >> different game & experience! just compare the intro. starsiege 1999 kickass

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Darkmoone1

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Yeah gonna have to put this year as the best one for me. Can't beat Baldurs Gate, Pokemon, Metal Gear Solid, and OOT.


Oh yeah, Tekken 3 is also missing. My favorite fighting game.

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TehUndeadHorror

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I'd love to see you guys do a video series chronicling the history of video games.

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SonyPony4eva

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1997 is my personal favorite............Final Fantasy 7 :)

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SonyPony4eva

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Resident Evil 2 (the best Resident Evil game EVER) came out in 1998.

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hystavito

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Ah Thief, one of my all time favourites. Bit of a PC resurgence in this list.

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Civf

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When you think of the amazing games NOT featured in this list you realize 1998 is unbeatable:

Rsident Evil 2, Freespace, Unreal, Gran Turismo, Commandos: Behind Enemy Lines, Fallout 2, SHOGO mobile armor division, Rouge Squadron... and i'm sure i forget many others.

1998 is the best year in gaming. It will be very hard to top so may amazing games.

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RoachRush

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Far too many classics and genre defining games released in this period. So far, nothing has come close to 1998. All hail the greatest year of gaming in history.

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ECH71

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HL1 = Great story, very innovative (extended FPS genre).

HL2 = Cool new graphics/physics engine, bland story but with few good moments (those with low expectations may disagree).

After playing games like the Mass Effect trilogy, I find it even harder to be impressed by any other game's storytelling so I guess I care even less if Valve makes HL3 -- I'm expecting its story to be just as boring as that of HL2.


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Grenadehh

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<< LINK REMOVED >> HL1 and 2 never had a well told story in the first place, and the gameplay and level progression in most of HL1 was actually terrible. As a player of HL for 17 years now, I could care less if HL3 happens. I never did.

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commander

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<< LINK REMOVED >> Halflife 2 was certainly not as good as halflife but they set the bar for physics though


And some levels were really good, like ravenholm and the buggy ride missions.


Mass effect was made with a whole new platform in mind, a much stronger platform, it released a year and a half later and in that time that was a long time.


If valve ever releases halflife 3 it will be to set a new bar, they won't go for anything less. Halflife set the bar for interactive fps, hl2 for physics , halflife 3 maybe for vr? who knows, it would be nice to get a new era in gaming because this one is getting old, even with the new gen.

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Isak_Svensson

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What about Fallout 2!?

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kljohns2

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It was definitely an amazing year...BUT it went to show the greedy corporate suits that if you put out too much quality in 1 year that the average consumer simply cannot afford to purchase them all. Which of course eventually led to spacing games out and cutting some possible games out.

End rant.

PS. Xenogears seriously needs to be mentioned!!!

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algoody421

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<< LINK REMOVED >> Holy shit, I forgot xenogears was 98. I still think 91 was better, but that game was life changing. Made me question everything I ever knew about an rpg. Still by far the best story Ive ever played...

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fallin75

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Damn that was a good year, most recently I remember me thinking about how 2011 has been the best year for gaming (recently) because I just couldn't decide between Skyrim and Batman Arkham City for game of the year haha.

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onixevil

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RE2

GT1

MegaMan Legends

Marvel vs Capcom

Etc..

Am i the only one who never thought that the ps1 didn't make an impact in that year?

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4mnesiac

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1991:

Sid Meier's Civilization

Zelda: A Link to the Past

Monkey Island 2

Super Mario World

Another World

Street Fighter 2

Sonic the Hedgehog

F-zero

Lemmings

Final Fantasy IV

Alien Breed

Neverwinter Nights (not the one most of you may have played)

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4mnesiac

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and dont forget another world (AKA out of this world), you guys sound like you dont know that one, that's also one of the greatest games ever made

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algoody421

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<< LINK REMOVED >> I just made this same list pretty much! great minds think alike. didnt see yours till now. I had tecmo superbowl, knights of the round, fatal fury king of fighters, battle toads, toe jam and earl, Simpsons arcade, wwf wrestlefest arcade, captain america and the avengers arcade. streets of rage

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Darkmoone1

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<< LINK REMOVED >>


I played Neverwinter Nights. One of the best RPG's i've ever had the pleasure of playing and has my best gaming moments. :)

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RoachRush

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<< LINK REMOVED >> 91 is the closest contender for the top. 98 is still the champ.

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AMV12

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NFS III: Hot Pursuit was released in this year too. My first NFS I played and probably the best one the series ever had (closely followed by NFS Porsche)

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ferrarimanf355

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<< LINK REMOVED >> 1998 was a killer year for racing games. NFS III, Gran Turismo, Daytona USA 2 and Hydro Thunder in the arcades, it was all good.


Especially Daytona USA 2, that game was perfect.

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