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CaptSopwith

Interesting Passage From 13 Years Ago...

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And it comes from a jet sim - the mother of all jet sims actually - Falcon 4.0

 

I was reading through my Falcon 4.0 manual this morning and came across this passage. It was written by Gilman "Chopstick" Louie, the creator of the Falcon series and also a key member of the late, great studio, Microprose. His thoughts on flight sims were fascinating to read. This entire passage is tucked away in an appendix in the massive Falcon 4.0 manual. And while he's describing a jet simulator - something almost totally alien to what we usually fly - his ideas I think explain why OFF is a great sim.

 

"Ask programmers and designers who work on combat flight simulations what features are critical, and most will define a great sim by how accurate the flight model and avionics are. Create a set of pre-scripted missions along with a few videos and voila... you have a simulation.

 

"Unfortunately, to create a great simulation, a flight model, avionics, enemy AI, and good graphics are only the start. The purpose of the Falcon series is not just to simulate the aircraft but the entire fight pilot experience. Our goal has been not just to replicate the flight dynamics, avionics and visuals of flight, but to include the elements that make up the combat environment."

 

"Falcon 4.0 is comprised of two completely separate simulations: the campaign and the air combat simulation (ACS). While most games focus only on the ACS, Falcon 4.0 spotlights the campaign..."

 

He later elaborates on the compromise between total realism and the idea of immersion.

 

"For experienced combat pilots, flying the real F16 is 99% boredom and 1% adrenaline. If Falcon 4.0 had the same ratio, nobody would buy the game. Falcon 4.0 like most games, increases activity levels to keep your interest engaged. The action you see in one Falcon 4.0 mission is equivalent to two to five real combat missions. The number of missions you fly in a day has also been exaggerated. On the other hand, Falcon 4.0 does not feature a super plane with unrealistic performance and weapons. Once in an engagement, the simulation realistically depicts what real F16 pilots can do."

 

I could be completely wrong, as I can't read Winder's mind or anyone else on the teem, but these ideas strike me as close to what the OFF designers were aiming for; accurately simulating a combat environment as well as the aircraft that flew over it. While you may run into more flights than you would in reality, it is the simulation of an active and ongoing air war over the Western Front that is of paramount importance. Without that, you're left with pretty graphics and an accurate flight model, and little else. Every great flight sim I've ever played has featured a dynamic campaign system. All of the classics I've been dusting off this week feature that. And it's worth noting that even other current WWI flight sims are working to create such a system.

 

Just thought I'd share. It seemed like some interesting reading. Cheers! :drinks:

Edited by CaptSopwith

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I have the same manual might have to dig it out and have another read through it... :lol: Then I might just might try Allied Force out and see if I can figure out what I am doing...

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I could be completely wrong, as I can't read Winder's mind or anyone else on the teem, but these ideas strike me as close to what the OFF designers were aiming for; accurately simulating a combat environment as well as the aircraft that flew over it. While you may run into more flights than you would in reality, it is the simulation of an active and ongoing air war over the Western Front that is of paramount importance. Without that, you're left with pretty graphics and an accurate flight model, and little else. Every great flight sim I've ever played has featured a dynamic campaign system. All of the classics I've been dusting off this week feature that. And it's worth noting that even other current WWI flight sims are working to create such a system.

 

Over in the 1C forum, I've been pounding this same point in way of protest over IL2 COD not having any offline play worthy of the name. I consider the lack of such a real tragedy. Noone doubts that the IL2 team can do the nuts and bolts side quite well--highly accurate flight and combat models, pretty graphics. But unless you're into "small batch" online play, buying COD is like buying a tricked-out Harley that you're only able to ride around the block in your own neighborhood, over and over again. No freedom of the open road, which is what you want a Harley for in the 1st place. "Small batch" online appeals to a few people, most of whom already comprise the IL2 community. But it won't attract people who want a wider experience, which is a damn shame because the quality of the nuts and bolts deserves a wide audience.

 

In fairness to Oleg et al, the decision to cut the dynamic campaign from COD doesn't seem to have been his decision. It looks instead like Ubi, the publisher, got tired of waiting (IIRC, COD has been in development for like 4 years already) and forced a release date on Oleg. It's the same old story that has ruined the PC game industry: the conflicts of interest between developers and customers OT1H, and the evil publishers and retailers OTOH. Oh well. Maybe someday COD will have a true dynamic campaign, by which time it will also have been patched and will be in the bargain bin. Then I'll get a better product than will be availalbe at release, and Ubi and Oleg will get less of my money.

 

But I digress...

 

As a developer, I know that it's all about gameplay. Gameplay is what people consider to be fun, hopefully even addictive. It's what attracts and keeps customers. In fact, customers are willing to sacrifice a bit on the technical side to get the gameplay they want. We here all love OFF's gameplay so are willing to put up with its various quirks and annoyances. I hope my own customers feel the same way. But everybody's tastes differ, so to maximize the customer base, you need either a type of gameplay that has very wide appeal, or you need several types of gameplay that each bring in different groups of customers. From a developer's POV, the latter isn't optimal because it can tie your hands--changes in 1 area may have negative impacts in another, and customers in all areas equally demand changes and improvements. Thus, it's better to have a main cash cow with a large fan base, and other aspects of gameplay as lagniappe.

 

What I find most discouraging about this whole story is that most of the IL2 community, being "small batch" players, doesn't grok this concept. To them, offline play is meaningless so they view a dynamic campaign as just another mere "feature". Meanwhile, they keep saying how they hope COD will attract new customers so Oleg can make new and better stuff in the future. Thus, when I say that while I find the technical stuff quite tempting, I won't get the game due to a lack of attractive gameplay, they put me in the same category as somebody whining that the Whirlwind or some other obscure, minor plane isn't in the game. They keep saying "pretty graphics, realistic flight model--what else do you need?"

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Well put, BH. As one of those who is far more interested in the dynamic campaign than the super graphics and realistic flight models, (with "realistic" still being a rather relative term in these instances, IMHO), I applaud the efforts of our devs for trying to really get that portion of the sim right. Don't get me wrong, I love my eye candy. But I will gladly sacrifice a bit of that for the ability to sign up with a squadron and fly into the teeth of the wind, never really knowing for sure what might await me on each mission. To run the same little scenarios over and over in the same weather, above the same bit of dirt, facing the same group of enemy planes each time has about as much appeal to me as owning that flashy Harley with all the bells and whistles that I can only ride around the block on a sunny day. I'd rather have the somewhat clunky olive drab Sunbeam S7 that I can jump on and go wherever I please, whenever I please, and experience to the fullest whatever might come along.

 

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Aren't there actual studies made that show the majority of players of strategy games and simulators (and maybe other game types too) usually play against the computer and not online or through PBEM against other people? I remember reading about such studies somewhere, but maybe my memory fails me.

 

Anyway, for me it's imperative that a combat flight simulator or a strategy game has a decent campaign system that can be played alone against the computer. I'm not very interested in online play. Maybe I would be if I knew the people I'm going to play with relatively well, but usually that's not the case. If OFF didn't have its wonderful campaign system, I know I wouldn't have been willing to pay so much for it. Good campaign mode is what separates the great flight simulators from the average ones.

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Over in the 1C forum, I've been pounding this same point in way of protest over IL2 COD not having any offline play worthy of the name. I consider the lack of such a real tragedy. Noone doubts that the IL2 team can do the nuts and bolts side quite well--highly accurate flight and combat models, pretty graphics. But unless you're into "small batch" online play, buying COD is like buying a tricked-out Harley that you're only able to ride around the block in your own neighborhood, over and over again. No freedom of the open road, which is what you want a Harley for in the 1st place. "Small batch" online appeals to a few people, most of whom already comprise the IL2 community. But it won't attract people who want a wider experience, which is a damn shame because the quality of the nuts and bolts deserves a wide audience.

 

In fairness to Oleg et al, the decision to cut the dynamic campaign from COD doesn't seem to have been his decision. It looks instead like Ubi, the publisher, got tired of waiting (IIRC, COD has been in development for like 4 years already) and forced a release date on Oleg. It's the same old story that has ruined the PC game industry: the conflicts of interest between developers and customers OT1H, and the evil publishers and retailers OTOH. Oh well. Maybe someday COD will have a true dynamic campaign, by which time it will also have been patched and will be in the bargain bin. Then I'll get a better product than will be availalbe at release, and Ubi and Oleg will get less of my money.

 

But I digress...

 

As a developer, I know that it's all about gameplay. Gameplay is what people consider to be fun, hopefully even addictive. It's what attracts and keeps customers. In fact, customers are willing to sacrifice a bit on the technical side to get the gameplay they want. We here all love OFF's gameplay so are willing to put up with its various quirks and annoyances. I hope my own customers feel the same way. But everybody's tastes differ, so to maximize the customer base, you need either a type of gameplay that has very wide appeal, or you need several types of gameplay that each bring in different groups of customers. From a developer's POV, the latter isn't optimal because it can tie your hands--changes in 1 area may have negative impacts in another, and customers in all areas equally demand changes and improvements. Thus, it's better to have a main cash cow with a large fan base, and other aspects of gameplay as lagniappe.

 

What I find most discouraging about this whole story is that most of the IL2 community, being "small batch" players, doesn't grok this concept. To them, offline play is meaningless so they view a dynamic campaign as just another mere "feature". Meanwhile, they keep saying how they hope COD will attract new customers so Oleg can make new and better stuff in the future. Thus, when I say that while I find the technical stuff quite tempting, I won't get the game due to a lack of attractive gameplay, they put me in the same category as somebody whining that the Whirlwind or some other obscure, minor plane isn't in the game. They keep saying "pretty graphics, realistic flight model--what else do you need?"

 

Well stated as always, BH. I had been keeping loose tabs on COD and this is the first I've heard about them throwing the campaign overboard. Here's my thoughts on the idea of flight sims shifting towards online multiplayer as the focal point of the game...

 

My friends from college and I often play on XBox Live. Our game of choice is usually Call of Duty or Battlefield. Half of the time we're catching up on each other's lives and BS-ing about the day as we're shooting at the enemy. Don't get me wrong, we usually do well, but it's as much of a social tool as it is a game - especially now that we're all scattered across the country. But we often have a saying when we play: "Online gaming would be great if it weren't for the people." I know that's a bit of an overstatement - online multiplayer is, of course, about the people. But in games like Call of Duty or Battlefield, who you're teamed with determines the outcome of a game as much as your own skill; playing with a crappy set of people can ruin a night. In short, the experience will vary wildly depending on who wanders onto the server while you play.

 

This type of gameplay seems particularly out of place in a flight sim - especially if it's made into the main event and not an additional feature. I know online squadrons have been around forever and - having been lucky enough to fly with a few of them over the years - flying a mission together, with an objective - even something as simple as patrolling the Front - can be incredibly satisfying. But that experience is unique. 99% of the players don't get to experience that. And even if you do, what are you supposed to do for the other 10-12 hours a week when you and your squad can't get together and fly online? What replaces that gap is critical. If there is a deep, immersive, dynamic campaign to go to, then you have a great sim. But if it's nothing more than a collection of single missions strung together - the replay value is limited at best. The Harley analogy is apt here.

 

(I'd like to add that yes, I know the community is the lifeblood of a sim and if OFF had an easy to navigate MMP component, we'd likely fly online. But I think the main thing that draws us together is reading those reports from the front which comes from... the dynamic campaign system).

 

And what if you aren't one of the lucky ones to fly with an online squadron? What if you're just another in a line of thousands of hapless fliers hopping on to what is essentially a Call Of Duty style team deathmatch server with Me109's and Spitfires? What kind of experience is that? I remember the free for all servers in Red Baron - and from the standpoint of someone who loved the campaign system - hopping on to a server filled with people flying Fokker D7's and Sopwith Snipes and "vulching" kills as people spawned on the field was aggravating - not fun. And surely the type of player who is attracted to an Il2 or a Cliffs of Dover game has at least a tacit interest in the history. If not, why not just pick up HAWX for the Xbox 360 and be done with it? Without a dynamic campaign system, the game is left with pretty graphics, incredibly detailed nuts and bolts simulation of aircraft, and that's it. And as "Chopstick" put it in 1998, that's not enough. If your sim is built around the Battle of Britain, then I want to experience the Battle of Britain! And an online, "capture the flag" server is not it.

 

I have to admit, I'm a little bit angry about this. If a sim nut - a guy like Oleg Maddox - who clearly appreciates history - can be ordered to throw out a campaign system by his publisher, than perhaps the OFF and, now that they've been bought out by 777 Studios, even the ROF method - for all of its controversies - is the way to go. Jettison the publisher. Third Wire also does this very well, come to think of it. And studios like Battlefront have built entire businesses around internet releases of "niche" products.

 

It seems clear to me now that we'll never see another Falcon 4.0 or a Red Baron 3D released by a mainline publisher ever again. Those games had a metric ton of content and an infinitely repayable campaign system. Activision would never touch a game like that - there's no DLC to sell for $15 a pop after you sell the game for $60. Those days surely ended when Microprose, Rowan, and Dynamix, shut their doors. Thankfully, we have people like Winder and groups like OBD who still understand what these sims are supposed to be about and work hard to get it right. Like you said, BH, we happily take the good with the bad - quirks and all. And I have no doubt in my mind that that is exactly why I've spent the last three evenings reinstalling games I bought at the end of the 1990s when I was still a teenager. Why? Because those games do what we wish these studios would do now. I own IL2. I probably have every campaign and every set of missions ever released for the thing. I run it with maxed out, eye-popping graphics. It's a hell of a flight simulator. And yet, I've never felt anything for it. I appreciate it for its technical achievements, the scale of work done by it is remarkable, but it has never once stirred anything in me.

 

The moment I got European Air War to run - a game I bought in 1999; that was locked in at 640x480 resolution at the time of its release; a game built to run on 3DFX video cards; in short, a dinosaur even compared to the now ten year old IL2 series - I got goosebumps. Once the music cued up, the hair on the back of my neck stood up, and I felt a tangible shot of adrenaline. Why? Because EAW nailed the feeling of being a WWII combat pilot. The menu art, the music, the subtle touches, and most importantly, the dynamic campaign system that the game shipped with, made me feel like it was real. At no point during even the most intense dogfights in IL2 did I ever feel like I was a fighter pilot in WWII. It's the difference between the cold but classically trained trumpet player, and the gritty jazz musician that is a bit sloppy, but can leave you in tears.

 

These current day sim makers lament a shrinking market. And, as much as it stinks to admit, we are a small group. You're never going to make a billion dollars off of a flight sim, ever. The market is completely different today than it was 15 years ago when Falcon 4.0 was being shown at E3. The masses have come to gaming, and hardcore PC gamers - and flight simmers - don't need to be courted anymore. There's money to be made selling Angry Birds on iPhones and map packs for Call of Duty. But sadly, if Cliffs of Dover really did throw the baby out with the bathwater in terms of the campaign, they seem to be making their situation worse by trying to be like all of the other "games" out there. And I don't know about the rest of you, but the reason why these sims hold such a warm place in my heart - something a video game, by all logic, shouldn't do in the first place - is because they aren't like every other game out there. We love these sims because they are unique, not in spite of it.

 

If we're doomed to move into an era of DLC packs, and Massively Multiplayer campaigns where everyone flies in a free-for-all in historic planes, then we'd better pay well for Phase 4 and tip Winder and the rest of the team early and often. These guys are the few out there that still fight for what the "old school" sim builders stood for. If not for them, I'm not sure where we'd be as simmers.

 

Just my 2 cents. I've probably had too much coffee today. :heat:

Edited by CaptSopwith

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I have to admit, I'm a little bit angry about this. If a sim nut - a guy like Oleg Maddox - who clearly appreciates history - can be ordered to throw out a campaign system by his publisher, than perhaps the OFF and, now that they've been bought out by 777 Studios, even the ROF method - for all of its controversies - is the way to go. Jettison the publisher. Third Wire also does this very well, come to think of it. And studios like Battlefront have built entire businesses around internet releases of "niche" products.

 

Game publishers are all evil and should be burned at the stake. However, they're only accomplices to the ultimate culprits, the retailers, who should be hung, drawn, and quartered. Both are only interested in short-term profit, and between the 2 of them, they destroyed the PC gaming industry.

 

Retailers of course only want to stock items that sell in large quantities, because they only have so much shelf space, and stuff that sits there forever keeps them from using that space for something that moves. They also know that very few games are major hits with high demand over the long-term. For most games, the vast majority of the sales happen in the 1st month or so after release. Thus, before a retailer will agree to stock a game, it gets an agreement from the supplier (usually the game publisher) that if the initial batch of units doesn't sell out within some ridiculously short time (usually about 4 weeks), the retailer can either return the unsold units to the supplier at the supplier's cost, or put them in the bargain bin for less than 1/2 the original price. Either way the supplier (publisher + developer) lose LOTS of money if the game isn't an immediate hit. Of course, if the game continues to sell like hotcakes, the retailer will take all the supplier can deliver for as long as the demand lasts, but that's by far the exception.

 

The short-term mechanics of the retailer are thus pushed upstream to the publisher. Publishers aren't creative entities; they merely package and (critically) advertise games from many developers. Most developers rely on publishers because most developers are too small to self-publish or advertise. But in exchange for getting the publisher to do this for them, they have to give the publisher a fair amount of editorial control. See, to meet the schedule set by the retailers, the publishers likewise are only interested in 2 things: games that they can hype into decent sales for the month it takes the market to realize they're really total crap, and mass-market blockbusters that will sell well for several months to a year. They have no interest at all in stuff in the middle, such as simulations, which tend to sell fairly steadily but at low volume for a long time. Because the rate of sales is low, retailers won't give them time to buld up long-term sales volume, so they're losers from the publisher's POV as well.

 

So, what happens is, publishers vet the ideas of their developers. If the publisher thinks the game might make a month's good sales, or is an established franchise with proven mass appeal, the publisher will go with it. Otherwise, it will refuse to publish that game and we never see it. Thus, the publisher decides what games are produced at all. Also, it's the publisher that decides whether a game will be a short-term thing few ever hear of or a major thing everybody will want, and spends its advertising money accordingly. Note that none of this has anything to do with the game's actual gameplay or even stability merits--it's just what the publisher THINKS it can sell. Customer support after the sale is the developer's problem, after all. Anyway, the ultimate success of a game is pretty much determined by the publisher's initial impression, long before either the retailer, let alone the market, has a say. Then the publisher sets release dates for its developers so that some of them are releasing something new every month, to generate cash flow for the publisher. If these release dates mean unfinished products go out the door, the publisher doesn't care as long as it can make money in the 1st month. IOW, it's the combined effect of retailer and publisher that CREATED niche markets, because they refuse to publish or sell games that don't meet THEIR criteria.

 

As a result, most things you see on shelves are total crap, here today and gone tomorrow, with a few good (if you like that sort of thing), mass-appeal franchises like WoW, Half Life, etc., thrown in every once in a while. The customers recognized this long ago, so gave up on PC gaming except for the mass-appeal franchises. In between the periodic releases of such things, they play consoles. As a result, consoles have evolved ot be able to handle (more or less) what passes for major PC titles these days. As a result, customers have very little incentive to spend several thousand bucks on a top-end gaming PC. Nowadays, the PC has devolved into the iPad, no more than a glorified cell phone with a screen big enough to read web pages. Folks don't miss playing real games on such things because they can get all the big titles on their XBox. I thus believe that the days of rapid increases in PC horsepower are over. That was driven by gaming, and PC gaming has been in a coma for the last decade at least.

 

Indy game developers have cropped up recently in an attempt to escape the combined tyranny of evil retailers and publishers. Many of these folks self-publish and self-retail, because neither publishers nor retailers will give them the time of day. That essentially means that their products are download only, and thus have DRMs. DRMs, however, have generated so much hatred that many customers refuse to buy games that have them, even if that's the only way they can get games of that genre. Furthermore, the indy developers are all too small to do much advertising, so few ever hear of their products, no matter how good they might be. The net result is that most indies sell very few games, and making games thus has to be a hobby supported by a day job. This increases development calendar time, thus further reducing cash flow and making the indy route even less viable. So I don't see a real long-term future even for indies.

 

Much as it pains me to say it, PC gaming is dead. The entire field has become just a niche in the real gaming market, which totally belongs to consoles. "Niche markets" within PC gaming are too small to measure even with electron microscopes. We're just pretending otherwise for as long as we can. I predict that before this decade is out, neither PC games nor even PC graphics cards will be manufactured. About 2020, the very last PC video card in existence will burn out in somebody's c.2013 "retro-gaming" PC, and that will be the final end of it. I just hope the machine dies playing one of my games (no offense to OBD--I hope the guy plays OFF the day before :grin: ).

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They can have my PC gaming system when they pry it from my cold, dead hands. Owning one is my constitutional right, DAMNIT! When PC gaming systems are passé, only passés will have PC gaming systems.

 

 

 

:biggrin:

 

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They can have my PC gaming system when they pry it from my cold, dead hands. Owning one is my constitutional right, DAMNIT! When PC gaming systems are passé, only passés will have PC gaming systems.

 

 

 

:biggrin:

 

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Hear Hear Lou! :grin:

 

BH: I think your assessment of the market right now is spot on - all of the main line releases are usually made for consoles and then ported to PC's, a complete reversal of the situation ten or fifteen years ago. However, I don't think the future is quite that grim - the market is shifting, yes, but sims like rFactor, iRacing, and other show that there's still the hint of a pulse left in the market. Also, I'm noticing that I'm not the only retro-gamer out there. I had never heard of GoG until I saw it posted here, but there's probably going to be another niche market for selling classic games that run on current systems.

 

What's the old saying, I'd rather be an optimist and a fool than a pessimist and right? The market may well be doomed, but I'll keep telling myself otherwise and hope that there's more Winder's out there. I have a good hunch that there is.

 

Cheers! :drinks:

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The main problem lies on the AAA titles where games are seen only as commodities. Everything is reduced to the lowest common denominator. There's no passion, no soul. I'm beginning to feel totally fade up from these guys, these Bobby Kotick's that now rule the game industry.

The future of PC gaming lies in the small developers and with the indies. It's where most of my money goes.

 

BH: I think your assessment of the market right now is spot on - all of the main line releases are usually made for consoles and then ported to PC's, a complete reversal of the situation ten or fifteen years ago. However, I don't think the future is quite that grim - the market is shifting, yes, but sims like rFactor, iRacing, and other show that there's still the hint of a pulse left in the market. Also, I'm noticing that I'm not the only retro-gamer out there. I had never heard of GoG until I saw it posted here, but there's probably going to be another niche market for selling classic games that run on current systems.

You bet. As far as I know GoG it's having a lot of success.

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I think it's far too pessimistic to state that PC gaming is dead. That has been said many times in the past, and yet PC games are selling quite well all the time. Digital distributors like Steam are making big money selling nothing but PC games. Physical stores are another matter. It's much easier to find console games from such stores than PC games. But digital distribution is here to stay, and that's a good thing.

 

As long as there will be PC's, there will be people who use them for gaming, and also crazy but wonderful people who keep developing new games, indie or otherwise. I've played more excellent indie games over the past few years (including Bullethead & co's naval stuff) than ever before, and there seems to be no end in sight to that development.

 

Most companies are also smart enough not to burden their customers with completely ridiculous DRM schemes. But of course there are notable exceptions, such as Ubisoft. But even they seem to have come to their senses with CoD's DRM, if I'm not mistaken. (Shame about the campaign mode though.)

 

So fear not gentlemen, the world is not going to end anytime soon. :drinks:

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.

 

Hasse Wind wrote:

 

As long as there will be PC's, there will be people who use them for gaming....So fear not gentlemen, the world is not going to end anytime soon.

 

 

 

pc_future_01.jpg

 

 

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