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My name's Keiran Burnett.

I am a human from Edinburgh, Scotland.

The Mount and Blade series has eaten far more of my time than any other except perhaps The Elder Scrolls or Civilization. All of the installments are currently on sale on Steam for around twenty-four hours at the time of writing, so get on it if you like medieval chopping and shooting and riding. Also trading if that's your thing... nerd.

Mount and Blade is a weird franchise and by all conventional logic it really shouldn't work. The games are janky, buggy and really kind of repetitive, but they're so ludicrously addictive, and it stems from hugely satisfying core gameplay. Core gameplay here assuming that you're the sort of player that fights for a living in the world of Calradia, and not one of the aforementioned mercantile inclined nerds. Combat is sweet as heck and revolves around a directional strike system combined with timed counters with attack damage heavily influenced by the speed you are moving when you hit, making mounted combat incredibly advantageous. It's difficult to fully describe why the combat is so enjoyable because it has a certain floaty feel that initially put me off, that is until I found out you can play in first person, and things took the hell off. You can look down at your body in M&B and it's genuinely very immersive. All the animations are the same, it still has exactly the same system, but for me, first person transforms battles from a confusing floaty mess, into a gloriously chaotic, gory bloodbath of a floaty mess. It's exhilarhating watching your blade (and mount, heh) turn gory with the innards of your foes as you ride to and fro amongst them reaping your red harvest. It's fucking sweet.

One thing I feel like bears mentioning is that M&B should only really appeal to those looking for an RPG experience alongside the combat. You can recruit and upgrade your own personal army drawn from the peasantry of six fictional nations each with their own cultural flavour. That's five fictional nations if you buy the original game but categorically do not do that because Mount and Blade: Warband is the same game just with more stuff, so skip the original entirely. You can also upgrade your own character and become an unstoppable plate-mailed warmachine, or a charismatic business focussed trader and diplomat if that's your thing, neeeerd. I feel I should mention this so crucially because if you just want the gory first person combat you should probably just get Chivalry; you can play it with people, and it's got nicer graphics. For those, however, that love the smell of progression pick up M&B. You can rise up the ranks in any of the nations vying for control and eventually even become king of that nation, and if that faction becomes strong enough, you can take over the whole map. My favourite factions are the guys that let you basically be the Dothraki from Game of Thrones and the Italian city-state dudes. I forgot their names sorry folks. You can even take over the whole map as an independant but it's pretty hard and you'll probably get beat the hell up. 

You can also pick up Mount and Blade: With Fire and Sword in the sale which is a standalone game set in Eastern Europe rather than the fictional Calradia in the prior two games, with the added treat of gunpowder weapons such as flintock rifles, blunderbusses, and primitive grenades. It's not as good as Warband and has far less mod support but it is a fun little diversion and I did particularly enjoy becoming a lord and buying my own custom black plate-mail and double barrelled riding pistol. Speaking of mod support, M&B really has one of the best modding communities out there and many of the mods are absolutely huuuuuuge conversions adding a whole bunch of content and mechanics to the game world. My favourite I played was the Floris mod pack which let me roleplay a savvy adventurer who joined the army and spent all his wages on land investments and after becoming a veteran of many battles moved onto landed lord and tourney champion.

I have a combined two hundred or so hours on these games clocked up across all installments so if my words have failed to sway you, let my numbers do the work for me. That's not even a lot compared to a great many enthusiastic players. I don't think you're a nerd for playing a trader by the way, I think it's fucking dope you can play the game as a sort of medieval simulator without being a bloodthirsty mercenary. Also, Rhodoks, pretty sure the Italian city-state guys are called Rhodoks. Also also, it's like twenty-three hours or something by now. Get going.

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Darkest Dungeon has been a delicious, poisonous suprise for me. I remember seeing it on Kickstarter a long time ago and thinking how much I physically needed it in my life to truly feel complete. I absolutely adore a well crafted atmosphere and anything that bleak and gothic rubs me up in spooky ways. Naturally, as is always the case with games we can't wait for, I completely forgot it existed about three days later. So seeing it on the Steam front page in early access was a pretty sweet surprise and I picked it up immediately.

Conceptually Darkest Dungeon is about whether delving into the blackest pits of ancient cyclopean terror is particularly good for an adventurers mental health. You might think the answer to that question is 'no.' Darkest Dungeon disagrees, leaving little doubt that the real answer is 'NOOOOOO!' scrawled in human blood in a nameless forgotten tongue upon an antediluvian altar swirling with eldritch energy.

The framing for this nightmarish query is that you come from a noble family, and one ancestor of yours in particular, growing bored of earthly pursuits, decides to use the family fortune to unlock what appears to be a gateway to a realm of mind-shattering cosmic horror that just so happens to be hidden underneath the family home. Despairing at the terror he has unleashed, he sends you a letter begging you to travel to your ghastly inheritence and cleanse the now poisoned countryside and ultimately stop the nameless forgotten evil he has unleashed. No pressure boys and girls.

Mechanically this amounts to splitting your time between tense, sidescrolling dungeon crawling and XCom: Enemy Unknown style base management. In fact the game reminds quite a lot of Xcom in that the heart of the gameplay is focussed around levelling up an expanding roster of soldiers whilst dealing with an ever increasing 'alien' threat. Just like it's sci-fi cousin death is permanent for your troops, except here there can be no save scumming as the game simply autosaves every time you do anything with no option to play with manual saving only. It's also far harder than Xcom because there are fewer opportunities to turn the odds in your favour. Competent players will consistently walk away victorious, but the random number generator in Darkest Dungeon is far less pliable than in similar games. Critical hits can be absolutely devastating for example, and you're just as likely to be crit for seventy percent health as for thirty.

The challenge is compounded further by the effects of stress and mental illness, which your veterans will have in spades by just a few hours in. What happens when an older soldier you've relied upon since the start develops a crippling fear of the ruins, and so they become a detriment to any expeditions there? Or what will you do when one of your group reaches breaking point and starts verbally abusing other party members as a coping mechanism? Is it worth foregoing the saftey of torchlight because one particularly valuable hero fights better in the dark? These are the questions you'll be constantly asked in Darkest Dungeon and it's rare to find an answer that really feels 'right.'

Expeditions are four strong, and currently can be lead into one of three dungeoneering zones, with the final two, including the titular 'darkest' dungeon, to be added later. Each zone comes with it's own set of environmental hazards and creeping voidborn terrors. The Ruins, which seems to actually be some sort of family crypt, is crawling with skeletons, spiders and the occasional mad cultist. The Warrens on the other hand is a toxic maze populated by hordes of squealing pig men where the very stones feels diseased. Heroes build up stress when on an outing and, unlike health which will be healed to full for every new expedition, stress will carry over from mission to mission unless dealth with. This can be done by say, paying for a hero to have a night on the town, or a visit to the brothel, but doing so will make the hero unavailable for the next mission. Sometimes your hero will develop a quirk that is simply too problematic to deal with and you can send them to the sanitarium to be cured of it, but doing so will again make the unavailable and will relieve no stress. The macro level choices here that can so often be just as tense as the dungeon crawling and that's much to the credit of the atmosphere of doom and helplessness cloaking the whole experience.

Everything is engineered to be as grim as possible, and to this end, Red Hook have worked in one of the best narrations I have ever heard. Spoken from the perspective of the ancestor who sent you the fateful letter, the performance and writing here are just spectacular, drenching the whole affair in deliciously self-aware gloom and doom. Mirroring the cartoon cynicism of the narrator, all the heroes look beaten and battered, downtrodden and weary. The art direction is excellent, it feels a little like Sin City but in full, gory colour.

So you can guess then that it's a very well presented game for early access, but it's not perfect and any potential buyer should obviously be aware that all balancing is subject to change, and there are a great deal of bugs being reported. I should also mention however that I haven't experienced any bugs myself for the most part. My biggest gripe really is that I want more, the game isn't necessarily light on content, but without crucial end game encounters and story I'm actually holding off on playing it too much to avoid burning myself out as progression for the moment is quite grindy. I've clocked around fifteen hours and I'm still having a blast, but until I can visit the Darkest Dungeon itself I'll be pacing this one out.

Bottom line: It boils down to your tolerance for unfinished games, and your patience for some samey content whilst we wait for more to be added. Personally I'm going to watch this one develop with my thousand maddening eyes before I dive too deep, but that's not for lack of quality. I'd rather wait and play this gem when it's been cut, though it's looking like quite a rock for the moment.

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I went into The Night of the Rabbit expecting something a little different than what I got. I expected whimsy, fantasy and hints at a darker heart than the game's face would imply. I got all of that, but I did not expect it courtesy of an episode of Doctor Who. I was all set on the idea that the rabbit of the title would evoke the famous white specimen of Alice's Wonderland. While he serves the same purpose in the story as a catalyst for the adventure he's no pompous time obsessed suck up to a monarch. He's an eccentric man from another world, seemingly centuries old and not quite human, who's looking for a companion to take on a fantastic journey. He also basically implies he has power over time as well world hopping. He's basically a Time Lord, except a rabbit, and that's cool.

The companion he finds is Jeremiah (Jerry) Hazelnut, a twelve year old boy living an improbably idyllic life in a woodland cottage with his improbably perfect mother. Jerry only has two days left of summer vacation (they insist on using American terminology despite everyone being VERY OBVIOUSLY ENGLISH) and he wants to spend them honing his imaginary magician abilities. His play is interrupted by a magic letter which gives you a really nice introductory puzzle in which you have to conjure the rabbit of the title in a summoning circle. As it turns out as well as being the titular character, he has a title of his own. He's called the Marquis de Hoto and he whisks you off through a portal to Mousewood where you'll spend the majority of the game.

It's here the game really begins to shine as you're given your first proper task that will take you out into the world. You're pretty much left to your own devices and like the last adventure game I reviewed Primordia you're allowed plenty time throughout the game to familiarise yourself with the world which will slowly expand as the story rolls on. It's refreshing once you reach this stage as it's the first freedom after an exposition heavy opening that was hard to sit through. Mousewood is absolutely gorgeous and I think I must have dropped an hour or two of playtime just exploring when I got to finally just roam around.

The game hails from the items scattered everywhere school of adventure game design for the most part, encouraging exploration as it's rare that all the tools you'll need will be found on the same screen as your obstacle. The sections where you are given a task and then have to go off own your own to complete them are the strong point. Thankfully the majority of game time consists of these sections. The mid game in partcicular was excellent. Here the world of Mousewood is allowed to simply breathe and exist and it's delightful. It's not all quaint gentility from the animal residents of Mousewood however.

Puzzles are inventive and for the most part fair and obvious. I had to consult a guide a couple of times but only to find out the precise order of actions. There was never a point where I felt like I was left with absolutely no clue as to what to do though in the instances where the specifics where hazy could be a little frustrating. There's a spell system which has abilities like hearing the whispering of rocks and causing things to grow at an accelerated speed. These are necessary for some of the puzzles and are a nice thematic addition to your typical arsenal of items in adventure games.

This is a game about thresholds; between worlds, between day and night, between magic and reality, between life and death and most of all about the line that seperates man and boy. When given it's own space the story is ocean deep. Adulthood creeps like tendrils into every corner of the world. Jokes Jerry doesn't understand, an elderly owl who appears to be having a wet dream, a cabal of masked reptilian social predators and more all contribute to the feeling that Jerry's childhood is breaking apart at the seams. This mirrors closely the waxing and waning walls between worlds at the centre of the plot. It's a thematically rich game, but it's the finer points of the metaphysical narrative that threaten to collapse the tale under it's own weight. This is particularly evident towards the beginning and end when we get critical levels of needless exposition and redundant dialogue chucked at us as characters explain things that need no explanation and much of what was better left as mystery has the curtain pulled back to reveal something far less interesing than you had imagined. Where the game's obsession with how the world of Mousewood actually operates was it's strength earlier, the overbearing fixation on explaining the mechanics of the plot smothers what could have been a far better ending. Top it off with a shitty boss fight with entirely new mechanics and much of the goodwill the game banked earlier is well on it's way to spent.

I like it though, it's skillful in crafting a world that can be enjoyed by both adults and children and it plays the character game deftly. So many adventure game worlds can live or die by their inhabitants and The Night of the Rabbit doesn't disappoint here. A mole radio presenter, a frog mailman a mouse on roller skates who runs a coffee shop inside a tree trunk, a senile old squirrel and a hippy magician in a poncho are just some of the cast you'll encounter. My favourite character is the story teller woodland sprite, a little man made of twigs and rocks who can be found by night in secret places.

Bottom line: It's a delightful adventure with some sinister tones woven throughout. Requires a little more patience than most adventure games. Not for the easily bored but those that love a well crafted game world should have great fun with this one.

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4:59 PM on 01.22.2015

I haven't played many point and click adventure games but recently I've been warming to them at a quite alarming rate. I'm finding that puzzle solving and interesting character interactions are a welcome reprieve from the grim-dark-shooty-stab that's the norm in a lot of modern games. So recently I had a playthrough of a game that I picked up a long time ago but never really sank much time into until now. It's still pretty heavy on the grim-dark, but refreshingly lighter on the shooty-stab. So, you know, baby steps and all. It's Primordia, and it's frickin' sweet.

Released by Wadjet Eye Games in 2012, Primordia is something of a little darling in some circles, but I've not seen as much love for it as I think it deserves. The game is set at an unspecified time in the future, and humans are no longer kept in much high regard by either the radioactive wasteland of future Earth or the machine inhabitants of the same, unless you happen to be Horatio Nullbuilt v.5, which in this particular game you very much do happen to be. A devoutly religious robot, Horatio spends his days fixing up his ship The Uniic and studying his 'Gospel of Man;' a sort of robot bible that seems to paint humans in a similar light to how the actual Bible paints God. He has a sarcastic sidekick (because of course he does) named Crispin, a floating metal ball who serves as an excellent foil to Horatio's more stoic and somber lead. All of a sudden a big nasty fridge looking robot with an assortment of lasers and claws steals Horatio and Crispin's power core, leaving them without the precious energy they need to continue living, and it's this event that is the impetus for the game's post-human tale.

So begins the tale, and you spend a little time with some relatively simple puzzles to ease you in to the particular quirks of Primordia's puzzle solving. I particularly like the thoughtful pace of the introduction, and the way it gives you time to really inhabit The Uniic and the surrounding terrain, before fate forces Horatio and Crispin further afield to get back their power core. The game world expands slowly as it goes on, and the puzzles make very economic use of the various boards you travel through, scattering plot and puzzle items here and there. The later areas in particular are great for their verticality, with items thought lost being found again in relation to where they dropped higher up, really giving you a sense of how the different backgrounds fit together to form something more than just painted landscapes.

I'm being a little sparse on details here to be quite honest and that's deliberate as with these sort of games the plot, puzzles, and exploration are the gameplay, so to allude to the story and locales too much would ruin the experience. The puzzles themselves are on the whole very well crafted, requiring very few leaps of logic unlike some other games in this genre. Very rarely did I ever feel cheated by a problem. I did feel like one puzzle involving an information kiosk in particular was a little arcane and only then did I do a very quick dip into a guide to point me in the right direction, though if I'm honest looking at the problem after I probably should have managed it without. There's a tremendous sense of satisfaction from getting the answer right in this game and as mentioned before it's really only simple logic and problem solving with no obfuscation or 'how the hell was I supposed to know that?!' moments. This is no small part helped by a great deal of puzzles involving fixing broken machinery, the mechanics of which are often quite familiar and easy to get a handle on. If you should find yourself stuck the hint system is very skillfully woven into Crispin and Horatio's dialogue, with the former coming out with lines that are so just enough to put you on the right track without ruining the fun of solving it yourself that it's just downright impressive.

The story is great fun and there's a lot of very interesting characters to meet along the way, some favourites being a pair of stuck up robots arguing over who had a greater role in the building of their robot dog. Or a badass robotic lady Judge Dredd type. The world building too is very impressive, with plenty of allusions to to the origin of the robot society that exists, and what happened to get it to the sorry state it's in. It's very Dark Souls in it's breadcrumbs of lore and dust trails of past conflicts and the atmosphere is artfully crafted.

I really don't have much to say against this one. You probably already know if you're the type of person who likes point and click adventure games, but if you happen to be on the fence I really couldn't recommend a better place to start. With sound puzzle logic, a beautiful art style, surprisingly affecting voice acting and a kickin' synthy Blade Runner soundtrack, there's a lot to recommend here. Very happy with this one.

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A wronged warrior who has everything taken away from them? Grisly yet cartoonish violence perpetrated on nameless mooks as cathartic revenge for an act of unspeakable cruelty? Quiet character moments interspersed with explosions of brutality and death? It's Tolkein by way of Kill Bill, and it's great fun.

So let's get this out of the way as soon as possible; this game is fan fiction of the most shameless kind. It takes unbelievable liberties with established lore, it inserts ludicrously powerful original characters that leave you wondering why you haven't heard of this guy before. In short, it's The Force Unleashed of Middle Earth. That's sort of appropriate given that Lord of The Rings and Star Wars seem to be the only franchises apart from comics that invite the same volume of original stories that often amount to little more than... well fan fiction. I'm thinking of games like Knights of the Old Republic and The Battle for Middle Earth. 

I stress none of this should be taken as criticism of Shadow of Mordor or any of the other games that come to mind. The fact that I compared the game to Kill Bill is praise enough. I had a lot of fun with this game and by the end I was quite genuinely howling with laughter at the sheer audacity of Monolith. They really do wholeheartedly go big in this game and the result is genious

The game opens and honestly there's no better to say it than shit really does go down from there on. Horrific tradegy occurs, Talion (you) dies, and then he's possessed by a very sinister elven wraith (voiced excellently by Alastair Duncan) who reminds me of Bill Nighy. From here you're very much thrown into the thick of things and I actually felt quite overwhelmed by how the game just threw you into it's open world, which was great cause goddamn did it immerse me, mirroring Talion's difficult adaption to life as a member of the living dead perfectly.

There's a few introductory missions dotted about the landscape classic GTA style and these take you through the basics of killing orcs. Having said that there's nothing to stop you just wandering about killing them yourself and besides since the combat system is quite literally just Arkham Asylum's you won't have much trouble picking things up. Seriously though I'm not joking it's exactly the same, which is fine because it's an excellent combat system that suits the game very well. There are some notable differences such as the ability to slow down time and do sick headshots in slow motion with your spectral bow. Tolkein is spinning so fast in his grave he's currently gyrating through the bedrock. Other notable literature destroying ablities later on include flashing to any enemy in wraith form and removing their dumb orc head, and the capability to make all the orcs currently under your kickass wraith mind control suffer a case of exploding cranium. Sweet.

It's a noted problem with the game that it becomes a little too easy especially once you gain the ability to disappear instantly and perfom UNLIMITED STEALTH KILLS FOR 20 SECONDS, but really it's just part of the fun. The game is all about slaughtering orcs in their thousands and anything that helps with that is fine by me. A lot of the warchiefs and captains you encounter can provide a meaty challenge with their various special attacks and invulnerabilities and mostly these guys are about as hard as things get with actual bosses being disappointing QTE laden fare. It's the warchiefs and captains that populate the much acclaimed 'Nemesis System' that are the games real bosses make no mistake.

Speaking of that when you do get the ability to do the aforementioned kickass wraith mind control the game is at it's best, and building an army of orcs led by the named captains and warchiefs you've kickass wraith mind controlled is some of the best organic story telling I've ever seen. The fun is not endless though and therein lies why it's here under 'If It's On Sale.' I really hope you like slaying the heck out of orcs, cause that's the game through and through. Becoming an unstoppable phantasmal badass is really swell but it does get stale, and though the game's story is absolutely hilarious and it's worth getting this game just for the last line Talion utters, it's just not enough to carry things to full price. Though I suppose that does depend on what 20 or so hours of amusement is worth to you. I quickly lost interest when the orc slaying got stale but I can definitely say this is a game I will come back to.

Shadow of Mordor is as dumb as it gets story-wise, as tight as it gets presentation-wise, and as repetitive as it gets gameplay-wise, but it is a whole lot of fun and features some genuinely affecting original characters. My favourite is Torvin, a rowdy dwarf hunter who really brings out Talion's human side in some nice little side missions that remind our hero what it's like to not live consumed by vengeance. Pick this one up if you like Tolkein's lore enough to see someone tear huge holes in it for fun.

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4:54 PM on 12.30.2014

The problem with keeping a blog like this as a kind of hobbyist is that it's difficult to keep up a regular output when you hit a bit of dry patch in game releases. Proper reviewers have the promise of a paycheck whilst sitting through a game they'd sooner pass over, but for amateurs like me it's a long shot that I'll force myself through a game I'm not interested in just so I have something to write about, and so Endless Legend is my both my boon and my bane. This game has taken over my life in a blitzkrieg of pure addiction, draining hours out of my days and spreading obsession through me with a viral efficiency so complete that I've been putting off writing this for days just so I have more time to play it. 

Endless Legend is a 4X fantasy game developed by Amplitude Studios, with setting and lore closely intertwined with their previous 4X effort Endless Space. It's also my favourite 4X since Civ 4, a game which aggressively expanded into my free time like a warmongering neighbour. This game is no clone however, with it's most glaring difference being the highly asymmetric factions, of which there are eight. So let's say you're the type of player that likes to aggressively expand and destroy your enemies, giving no thought to diplomacy or trade; then the ever hungry insectoid Necrophage are the empire for you. Perhaps you prefer victory through economic might and and careful manipulation of trade and markets? Then the nomadic Roving Clans should take your fancy. Maybe you're a diplomat at heart, preferring to achieve victory through conversation and political leverage? Then the dignified Drakken, self-appointed custodians of the planet will take your fancy.

Each faction is surprisingly rich in lore, with an overarching faction quest for each that is surprisingly engaging for all of the empires. My favourite of these is from the Broken Lords, a race of creatures whose incorporeal forms are trapped within suits of gleaming armour bearing all the trappings of chivalric knights, contrasting starkly with their ravenous hunger for the life-force of other beings. This friction between their knightly ideals and their vampiric curse is the engine at the core of their narrative. Their quest concerns switching your nations food source from the souls of the innocent, to Dust, the games currency and catch all magic miracle substance. 

These faction quests provide some welcome nuance and context to the actions you'll undertake in the course of the game. It even does a good job of painting the at first glance evil Necrophage as something a little more sympathetic. After all, what would giant ravenous insects eat, but whatever was closest to the hive? When you're in their shoes, they don't seem quite so reprehensible.

Presentation is excellent in all aspects. The GUI is clean and pleasing, the map weird and beautiful. Unit models are instantly recognisable as well as gorgeously designed. From the shining knights of the Broken Lord's Stalwarts, to the Proliferators, slavering living engines of necrotic destruction utilised by the Necrophage there's plenty of variety in flavour as well as gameplay.

The world of Auriga is at once different and familiar with each new campaign. It feels positively brimming with life and despite the randomised nature of each new start the landscape is boiling over with it's own fictional history. When setting down a new city you are staking claim to a whole named region, themed and generated to feel like country or province in it's own right, dotted with minor villages with it's landscape dominated by your ever expanding metropolis at it's beating heart. Music and sound design are excellent also. My favourite thing ever is the sound the Roving Clans weird beetle-horses the Yirmak make, an almost digital chirruping roar that sends chills down my spine as I picture riding one alongside one of the Clans great city-carrying Setseke beetles.

In case it wasn't quite clear I absolutely adore this game but I do have a few gripes. Tactical combat is not very engaging, and the majority of battles are won in the preperation stage rather than on the battle map, though even here the game finds ways to delight me as the battles take place on the actual game map, with hills and forests real objects and obstacles to war. The AI is sadly not very smart on either a macro or micro level with difficulty implemented mostly as statistical boosts to AI damage and production. I'd recommend playing on hard as that's where it seemed to me the AI gained the greatest amount of meaningful better decision-making without the percentage boosts to it's stats becoming too obnoxious. You can of course bypass this problem by playing multiplayer as me and a few friends have been doing for a little too long each day for the past week or so.

For me Endless Legend is something of a benchmark, a stress test for any new 4X's to stand up against. It's the sort of game that keeps you awake at night and itching to throw off the covers and stay up until 5AM huddled over the ghostly glow of the monitor. This is the kind of game I could play for weeks or even months at a time, and after a bit of disappointing last few months of gaming for me, I can't think of any better way to be eased into the new year.

Bottom line: I wanted to give this a ten, and then I thought about not doing it cause it's not perfect, and then I did cause I love it.


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