Solo Indie Game Development on a Budget


So you want to make a game by yourself?
Here’s all the tools you’ll need and how much they cost. I’m David Nadaski, a solo indie game developer on a budget using the Unreal Engine 4. I’m making a real-time strategy / tactics game called HŌRU, where you don’t build bases, you build battlefields. So let’s get started! What are the tools
you’ll need? I’ve divided them into different categories, like modeling and animation, texturing, image editing, video and sound, and miscellaneous. and at the end you see a big Unreal logo because that’s where all the assets generated by these tools go into. So the first application I wanted to talk about is called 3D-Coat. I use 3d coat for three things: the first one is high polygon voxel
based sculpting, the second one is high-poly to low-poly retopology, and the third one is UV editing. One of the prime advantages of 3D-Coat, besides doing all the aforementioned three things, is that it’s cheaper than ZBrush. So much cheaper, in fact, that you can get a hold of the amateur Edition for about €90 or $100. And I think that’s a great price. you know I mean if you’re starting out and your game is pretty much in a non-existent state you want to get by as cheap as possible and you don’t want to overcommit yourself,
and with 3D-Coat you can do that. My advice is that
you get the amateur Edition first and then upgrade later as you see fit. Now there are some limitations to
3D-Coat’s Amateur Edition in that it doesn’t support textures above 2K, but if you’re using the Substance Suite like I am, that’s not really a limitation at all. also the license is a non-commercial license, so once your game starts rolling you might
want to purchase the commercial upgrade. There are some limitations in the software,
for instance it doesn’t have as many brushes as ZBrush would, but seriously,
I haven’t found that to be an issue just yet. And I’ve been developing my game
for about one and a half years now. So 3D-Coat is pretty much the
industry standard when it comes to retopology, that is, converting your high-poly meshes into low-poly ones. It’s also great for doing your UVs, although with the latest update
to Maya LT, the 2018 edition Maya has pretty much caught up
to 3D-Coat’s capabilities. All right, so next up is Maya LT! Maya LT is the light version
of the full-blown Maya and it costs about a tenth of what Maya does. And does pretty much everything Maya does, but render. So basically it does rigging, skinning, animation, modeling, even sculpting, if you want. It has the HumanIK plug-in (or module), that is great for creating LODs (level of detail), It’s excellent for hard-surface modeling, like buildings and, I don’t know,
water buckets whatever you want to throw at it, really. It’s got splines, NURBS curves,
it has a very good decimation tool that allows you to
pretty much take a kitbash and convert it from a high-poly,
multi-million polygons model into a low-poly,
few thousand polygons model. So basically, what I do is if
I have something that I’ve started working on in 3D-Coat, I’ll use 3D-Coat’s UV editor, whereas if I have something else
that I’ve started working on in Maya LT, I’ll just stick to
Maya LT’s UV editor. so pretty much the only downside of choosing my LT is
it’s only available in a subscription model so that means you’ll end up shelling out
about 30 euros or $30 every month to use the software alright so next one is
blender now blender can do everything that my LT can and it’s completely free
however I’ve found some limitations when it comes to rigging especially with
their standard rigify / picture 40 rigs so in the end I opted to go with my LT
and also my LT works a little bit better for me but your mileage may vary
I still use blender a little however I mainly use it for rendering so like I
said my LT does not support rendering in any way shape or form however you can
export your my LT models as FBX files into blender and render from there and
also you can connect blender with something called render man which I
believe the basic addition is free for
non-commercial purposes so if you want to make some high-quality renders just
go with blender and took it up to render man and you’re all set
in terms of rigs between my LT and blender blender is not really that
friendly with that so you might want to bake out your animations and just export
those into blender and that way you’ll have whatever you had in my LT without
blender messing stuff up so next up we have Houdini Houdini does a number of
things very very well and one of those is procedural modeling so you can use
this for laying out stuff like fences walls basically anything that you could
with the spline based tools in on your engine but you can achieve a much
greater level of detail in Houdini you can also use it to build complete cities
or buildings in Houdini and have sort of a modular configuration once imported
into the engine like on a second screenshot here you can see a full blown
city being generated in Houdini procedurally so Houdini comes with
Unreal Engine for integration unfortunately it’s not in the free
apprentice version so you’d have to shot a couple hundred bucks to get that but
hey I suggest you get the apprentice Edition first practice I believe you get
like a 30-day trial of the version that does integrate with Unreal Engine 4 so
you can play around see what it does for you and upgrade if you want you can also
use Houdini for modeling let’s say very high detailed objects like rocks and
cliff faces that would be very time-consuming to do in a traditional
modeling application like Maya or even sculpting with 3d coder ZBrush Houdini’s
got somewhat of a steep learning curve um there’s a lot of systems at play like
fire effects the modeling itself and everything is basically a node pretty
much like unreal as material editor it’s a node based workflow so you’ll have to
get used to that next our list is mesh lab so mesh lab is a small tool that I
use mainly for mesh like polygons normals fixing alignments
pivot points that kind of stuff however it also has another tool called quadric
edge collapse decimation that will help you immensely when you’re trying to get
some kid bashes high polygon detailed models and convert them to low polygon
assets that you can use in your game basically you just feed it a model and
obj file push a button and boom it’ll reduce millions of polygons into a
couple of thousand if you want and the results are very convincing and that’ll
save you a ton of time because you don’t have to go into my our 3d coat andreat
apologize they’re spending hours upon hours of getting a simple let’s say gun
mesh they work the way you want to so next we have world machine real machine
is kind of a niche market it’s used for landscape generation it’s great for
open-world games and also pretty much any kind of game that needs detailed
landscapes so with world machine you don’t have to go in and model every nook
and cranny by hand you can just have a procedurally generated landscape and
cherry-pick regions out of it that you want I should also mention that DNA
supports dynamic landscape generation as well so if world machine is not really
your cup of tea you can also go and do that in the Deenie and this is also
available in the free apprentice Edition in an evening so real machines got a
node-based editor again like the material graph in Unreal Engine 4 and
it’s got some awesome plugins like geo with two that are pretty much a software
of their own and they allow you to do even more advanced landscape generation
but it comes at a additional cost my suggestion is you get the in the
addition sure run you about 100 euros or US dollars and upgrade to the
professional Edition later if you want things like tile generation and
scripting alright so next up is speed tree SpeedTree
like the name implies is used for generating trees
and all sorts of different foliage you want to have in your game speak trees
very much the industry standard when it comes to the generation of trees and
other types of foliage and there’s a lot of Hollywood movies that use it as well
and also games like The Witcher 3 had their foliage done in SpeedTree it’s
also worth mentioning that you get access to a bunch of free assets every
month when you have a subscription so basically there are two aspects to
SpeedTree one being the editor itself which is fully compatible with Unreal
Engine Ford and the other thing are the actual assets the trees that you can
purchase now the trees and plans you can purchase from the speak to restore or
kind of expensive at least in my opinion they’ll run you anywhere between a
couple of dollars all the way up to like 50 bucks for I don’t like a palm tree
and that’s probably something that you won’t be able to afford if you’re
watching this video because you want to roll on a budget but the editor itself
is great because you can recreate everything they have on the store with
you know varying levels of detail and you know the more you use it the more
familiar you become with it and the better cheese you’ll be able to make all
right next up is substance sweet substance sweet is composed of two main
applications substance painter and substance designer there’s also some
other software in the indie subscription namely b2m now let me go over each
substance painter substance painter is used for texturing your 3d models think
of it like the Photoshop effects drink it has layers it has PBR materials and
it also has a non-destructive workflow I absolutely couldn’t live without Bainer
so if nothing else get painter seriously it’s one of the best applications out
there and it’s very cheap in my opinion for what it does next one is substance
designer now you use substance designer to create materials things
like metal plates or rocks or something procedural like sci-fi paneling all
sorts of things you then use these PBR materials and put them onto a mesh via
substance painter so you make the textures in substance designer and then
you use them in substance painter now the beauty of it is is that these
textures or materials as they’re called have various parameters that you can
adjust for instance suppose you make some rocky sand you can actually put a
parameter in that will control the amount of rocks in your sand so you set
this up in substance designer and once you’ve imported it into painter you just
adjust some sliders to get the amount of rock detail that you want and all of
this integrates with unreal engine seamlessly so you import your substances
you’ve created in designer and let’s say it’s something for a landscape so
landscape material you then import your substance file into Unreal Engine 4 hook
up things like base color normals ambient occlusion etc and then you can
adjust your parameters in engine as you go about editing your material so
there’s pretty much real-time feedback on what the final result will look like
from something that you’ve created beforehand in designer and I think it’s
pretty cool painter and designer both support texture baking as well so
texture baking is the process of taking your high poly model like your sculpt
and your low poly model that you’ve created either in 3d coat or Maya or
some other means and then baking will make sure that the detail that’s visible
in your high poly model will make it to your low point one and it does that by
creating a bunch of Maps mainly a normal map and
occlusion cavity maps that will link sort of like the differences between the
high poly model and low poly model it just magics you know give it a shot so
designer works in a similar fashion again to the Unreal Engine for material
editor in that it’s node based and also non-destructive so this no base kind of
methodology is I think kind of becoming the industry standard or has become the
industry standard over the past couple years another huge benefit of going with
the substance suite as a subscription so the Indy subscription is that you get
access to 30 materials a month from substance source these are very high
quality pre-made materials you can use for free so basically you’ve got 30
points a month and these points will roll over the next month if you haven’t
spent them so if you’ve been waiting out for let’s say six months you’ll get 6
times 30 so 180 points that is a hundred and eighty high quality materials that
you can download and you can even keep these materials if you decide to abandon
your subscription now the reason you might want to do that cancel your
subscription is because after a period of 12 months of continuous subscription
you can purchase the entire substance suite for I believe about 50 euros or
dollars if you so choose so you’ll get substance painter substance designer and
b2m another tool that you can use for generating textures from photos like
base color normal map ambient occlusion etc you get all these for 12 months of
subscriptions plus $50 or yours and then you get to keep all your textures and
everything else you the thane from substance source so I think that in
summary substance suite is probably the best value for money that you’ll find on
this list I think they have like a 30 day free trial as well
all right next category is video and sound I’ve grouped these two together
because I’m not really using you know that many tools basically for video I’m
using OBS studio completely free it will record your screen so you can record
some gameplay footage tutorials like this one whatever you want really or you
can go and stream yourself live on YouTube twitch or any of the other major
video platforms the other video tool that I use is called the Vinci resolve
the Vinci resolve is a professional-grade
video editor that is completely free and it’s one of the industry leaders when it
comes to color grading or color correction I use the venturi resolve
with all my videos and I’ve edited this video with resolve as well so finally I
have one small application that I pretty much use exclusively when it comes to
sounds and music and it’s called Reaper Reaper will cost you about $60 or euros
for the limited commercial license and basically it’s a one-stop shop for all
your audio needs it supports VST plugins so that is effects and all sorts of
modifiers and it also has a very handy library feature with which you can
organize all your audio files in these things called databases these are just
big catalogs of data you can annotate them you can put in custom descriptions
it’ll read the industry standard descriptions off of off of these files
so it’s a pretty handy tool and it’s seriously the only tool I use for music
and sound okay so the next one on the list is called Intel GPA Intel GPA is a
graphics profiler slash debugger and it analyzes frames captured from your game
so basically you launch their monitor application
and which won’t turn launch for a game and then once inside your game you’ll
press a keyboard shortcut and it’ll capture the actual frame from the game
and then you can go and analyze that in Intel GPA it’s very detailed actually a
lot more detailed than what comes shipped with Unreal Engine 4 and you can
even go down to the mesh level and analyze which mesh has the most impact
on performance it’ll also do that for shadows lights and will even give you an
age LSL code view and since it is completely free and supported by Intel I
think it’s an awesome tool that no developers should live without an
alternative to Intel GPA is called render dock which is also free it’s not
made by Intel made by some other people I’ll not go into render dog in detail
because I haven’t used it that much so basically Intel GPA does more than I
need ok so that’s pretty much all the software I had on my list I also wanted
to talk a little bit about project management because I think it forms a
very important aspect of game development and it tends to get
overlooked so basically what I mean by project management is the planning and
organization of tasks and resources like people if you’re a solo indie game
developer like myself it’s very easy just that one person but that person
needs to get the job done and where does he get his task sperm from the project
management software so I use something called hacking plan which is completely
free for up to a couple of people and I basically use it for keeping track of my
tasks so I’ll create everything in hack and plan first before I touch code or
you know start modeling something in the same ayah or 3d code and I’ll always put
in an estimate now one of the things about estimates is that they are very
difficult to get right but with some practice and using a tool like hacking
plan conscientiously you’ll get to the habit of at least you
know making these estimates so you’ll have an idea of how much time on tasks
in your project are going to cost and that’s great because let’s say you want
to prepare your game for Kickstarter you’ll obviously have a checklist and
all those checklist items are going to be transformed into tasks using your
project management tool and that’s very handy because you’ll be able to tell how
much time it will take for you to prepare for your kickstarter or launch
date or it will have you and it’s it’s also great for collaboration because you
can just distribute tasks among team members and check up on status and such
so my recommendation always use project management software all right so now the
fun part costs how much is all this going to cost you if you look at this
table I’ve included three summaries one is your one-time or initial costs the
second one is your monthly costs and the third one is the total cost of
everything in the first year now you might look at those numbers and think
that they’re too high you might look at these numbers and think they’re too low
in my experience being a solo indie game developer in 2018 these prices are very
very good basically for a hundred bucks or euros a month you get to develop your
game there’s not really much else to it I mean you have your modeling
applications your animation pipeline will cover do you have texturing taken
care of video sound everything um I think it’s a pretty reasonable price
you’ll also notice that I’ve included a couple of entries that I haven’t
specifically mentioned previously such as office 365 G suite Photoshop and
Lightroom and a Linux US server so everything besides Photoshop I’m gonna
talk about in one of the next slides Photoshop is basically just standard I
mean I couldn’t doing without Photoshop and since
Adobe’s put out their photography plan it’s really become dirt cheap
so basically about ten dollars 12 euros a month will get your Photoshop and
Lightroom I actually don’t use Photoshop that much but whenever I do I’m not
really sure if there’s another application that could get the job done
as quickly as I can in Photoshop Lightroom is just really an
added bonus um I’ve tried using it for organizing my
textures so far it hasn’t really worked that well for me but hey you might find
another useful Lightroom that I’m gonna rare and do tell me about that
in a comment section alright so how does this all add up here is my character
pipeline and I have similar pipelines for working with non characters like
props buildings weapons things like that so first off sculpting
I will initially sculpt my character in 3d coat it’s got the voxel based
sculpting engine that I like very much and then once that is done I’ll take the
model the high quality sculpted model with like millions of polygons or
however many voxels I’ll take that into 3d coats retopo room 3d coat is divided
into like these rooms but enemies I’ll just do really topology the 3d code
that’s quite easy um you basically just push a button and boom you’re in retail
mode now 3d code has automatically topology and it works great for organic
models like characters like this like this giant that you see here so
basically I’ll just unleash 3d codes automatic greet apology and then fix any
errors by hand next up I’ll do the UVs now you v’s are again very simple to do
in 3d coat and provided you have a good quality low poly model already resulting
from your wreath apology it’s gonna be a cinch to create the UVs for that
so once the UVs are done I’ll export the model and FBX to my LT where I’ll take
care of the LEDs I like to have them done early on or at least through the
first pass early on so I can see what it does
once I animate and texture my base reference so that is LOD 0 so after the
LEDs have been generated I’ll take my character to rigging now rigging if
you’re doing a humanoid model is very very simple in Maya LT all you do is you
just create a human Ike a rig or skeleton and conform the bones to your
characters in mesh once that’s done you’ll want to skin the model process
called skinny which is sort of like an association of your meshes vertices to
your rigs bones so here you’ll say that for instance the shoulder bone is going
to affect this region right here around the shoulder of your character and you
do that for pretty much every single bone in your rig and once you’re done
you can start animating so animation um is I think something that Maya excels at
I really have not come across a better tool for doing animation than Maya it’s
basically got everything I’m not gonna go into too much detail because that
would probably be the subject of countless other videos so basically the
only limitation as far as I’m aware in Maya LT compared to regular Maya when it
comes to animating is that you only have access to a single timeline now that can
get a bit annoying but it’s something that you’ll eventually get used to
basically this just means that you’ll have to leave a small gap between let’s
say an attack animation and your regular locomotion and you know just to mark
where something ends and the other one begins but my lt”s game exporter
supports that because you actually specify the start and end frames of all
your animation is there and then it will create you know as many files as the
number of item a shoes you have the next one is texturing mom I sometimes mix
this up sigh sometimes texture the model first in substance suite and go back and
forth you know between animating and texturing this is so that I can
track down any extra polygons or edge loops that need to get added for
instance around the shoulders or the ankles you might want to have extra edge
loops so that your model looks better than animated once I’m done with
texturing and animation I’ll take the model into ue4 I’ll just use regular FBX
files I’ll use one FBX for the base model without any animation on it and
I’ll use separate FBX files for all the animations that I’ve done and the way
you link them up in Unreal Engine 4 is via the unreal generated skeleton that
skeleton gets generated from your Maya skeleton so yeah I’ll check if the model
has imported correctly I’ll import its textures create materials for them
normally for characters I tend to keep it very simple I’m not using layers or
anything fancy because I don’t have you know as many characters as like for
tonight yeah so for me is just importing the textures and the correspondent and
creating the corresponding materials and once that is done the final step is when
I go into the unreal physics asset tool or fat and tweak the characters physics
asset so that it does ragdoll animations properly so that’s pretty much it that’s
my character pipeline so I hope you’ve found it useful all right so you’ve
heard me mention onedrive and G suite and Linux server on one of the previous
slides and the reason why I did that is if you’re going the indie developer app
you will be pretty much in charge of setting up your own source control
source control for those of you that don’t know is something that keeps track
of your files basically any file assets source code 3d data textures etc
typically you’d want to have everything checked into source control and
one of the reasons for that is collaboration so if you have like
multiple team members you can cooperate on the same project and check everything
else from a central repository or depositories so the other feature of
source control is change tracking so you can actually go back in time and see
what changes you’ve made to particular file ever since you’ve started
versioning your project when it comes to games there are two main source control
systems one is called git which might be familiar to a lot of you because outside
of games it’s pretty much the standard source control system nowadays and the
other one is perforce the perforce is used by most of the major triple-a
studios out there I’ve highlighted a couple of high-level differences between
git and perforce but I urge everyone to go to the perforce website check out
what it’s all about read some articles on you know comparisons between perforce
and git and just pick the one that suits you best
so basically perforce is free for up to five users and it’s the industry
standard when it comes to games get on the other hand is free for an unlimited
number of users so there’s no cost attached it’s completely open-source and
it was actually created by the creator of Linux Linux Torvalds and it’s seen a
very widespread adoption in the software industry in general now historically why
games haven’t been using git so much was because of large assets for instance a
substance file can very well run into the gigabytes and traditionally it
hasn’t felt well with larger files but ever since they rolled out and get LFS
or large file system they’ve pretty much eliminated that problem so how do you
use git so first of all you’ll have to set up a regular repository for your
regular files like source code and basically anything that’s text-based and
then alongside that you’ll have your LFS container which will host your you asset
files substance files models anything that’s binary and this way you’ll get
around the limitation of basic git and have source control at your disposal
that is completely free now there’s one more thing when it comes to setting up
source control and that is should you host it locally or remotely hosting
source control locally is fast safe and free hosting it remotely however enables
others to collaborate with you also keep in mind that source control generally
uses up a lot of space so if you have a server where space is limited which in
most cases it is and you’re the only one on your team then I would definitely
recommend going with local hosting the way I do local hosting for her is I put
everything the whole repository inside of a onedrive folder so I have my main
folder as you can see in the tree view here up there and inside of it I have a
folder called repositories and I use my local git server to called get a a– or
CATIA to store the repositories in that folder this way I get an automatic
backup via onedrive and I can also use G Suite to replicate that folder inside of
G suite so just the repositories folder and by using cheese suite and onedrive I
get two backups for the price of their regular subscription and I think that’s
great so not only does this allow me to
version control everything I do but also back them up in two places and have
access to them from whatever computer I choose and all I have to do is just go
in and log in to onedrive and orgy suite and start downloading those folders and
that about covers source control I also wanted to take a brief moment to talk
about online presence as I think it’s something that’s very important so what
I suggest and the reason I’ve included a Linux us server
and the cost session is that if you get a Linux server for cheap in the US then
you can put your website there and also if you happen to be working in a team
you can just shove the version control system there as well so that way for the
price of one server you get your website with a self hosted WordPress which is
free and you can access to your version control from wherever you are and I also
think it’s a great idea to get used to having website early on because you know
as you’re green because you know as your game progresses you’ll start getting
attention and what better way to share your progress with your fans than on
your own website and you can always cross link Twitter post and Facebook
posts and website blog entries you know so um I think it’s just a benefit really
so I actually have my us server hosted at digitalocean and I’ve actually found
them to be a great quality host but if you’re in the EU there is a very very
cheap option that I’d absolutely recommend it’s gold aruba cloud and you
can get a server for as low as a single euro for a month so that’s 12 euros per
year and it’s a very decent server that – because you get like an unlike one gig
of ram and i think about like 20 gigs of hard drive which for the price of single
your I think it’s pretty fantastic you know it can always ditch them and go
somewhere else alright now the last thing I wanted to
talk about was just some challenges that you’ll probably face as a solo indie
game developer because I think it’s important you know to see probably what
your biggest issues will be at least these are some of my biggest issues and
when I decided to go so so number one is software overload by far the biggest
problem I have is that I have all these different kinds of software from
modeling animation texturing video sound etc and I have to keep track of all of
that right I have to know how to how to make a model in Maya
I have to know how to do programming C++ on your engines version of C++ actually
and I have to jump back and forth between all these different applications
and you’ll have to jump back and forth between all these different applications
if you know make it solo right so you know I’d say to get around that you
should pretty much write down whatever you’re doing and how you did it for
instance if you figure out how to rig a character properly in Maya LT write it
down use something like OneNote or Evernote
or just you know pen and paper but create like these mini tutorials for
yourself so that you know a couple of weeks down the line after you’ve been
busy developing your games basic mechanics in C++ you can just come back
to to your notes and see how you did rigging for your next character the
other thing I found to be useful is to group your tasks by tool so if you have
like a couple of buildings to model out then you should probably group them
together and do it and do it sequentially right like building one
building two etc because that way you’ll probably be working in Maya
so Maya’s gonna become you know your main tool for a couple of days and
you’ll remember much more than what you’ve done previously Razzie feud model
just a single building then went straight to substance texture didn’t
substance and then came back to my for the next one so I suggest grouping your
work by tool second problem I normally have is a discipline well no big
surprise there I guess and I try and get around that by planning weekly sprints
sewing that project management app hacking plan I’ll just go in you know
and plan out my next sprint sprint is something I define as an amount of work
that needs to be done in a single week so every single week typically on a
Sunday I’ll go into hacking plan and plan the next week out all right and my
last little issue is ever since you know going solo and having left my
job I’ve picked up some very interesting working hours so I usually work from
9:00 p.m. to 5:00 a.m. and that obviously has an effect on my social
life as well as my girlfriend so if you go solo I think you really should pay
attention to how you plan your days out all right so that’s basically everything
I have to say if you want just hit me up in the comment section below and I’ll be
glad to answer whatever questions you might have all right thanks a bunch for
listening guys Cheers

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Reader Comments

  1. Lusiogenic

    Thanks for the advice! Davinci Resolve looks interesting. I'll be checking it out.
    Suggestion for rigged characters there's MakeHuman, which is free.

  2. Peter 'rePeteGG' Dranischnikov

    Yo, Great video! I am in a similar situation and am working quite similar to you but you showed me some more cool tools, thanks! I would like to download the powerpoint for the alternatives link for hacknplan. But it seems Its not possible. Can you check it?

  3. ryan199gamer

    This is an amazing Video, and even though Ive been in the indie industry for a few years now, This video helped me get my UE4 pipeline straight. GG Thanks

  4. Dimitar Dimitrov

    thank you vary helpful ps: if one needs to go full free indie Blender 2.8 and UE4 can over come all needs .if one really needs

    better you can go Substance Painter for subscription as you said .thank you again for the tutorial cheers bye .

  5. Rogier van Gemert

    100 EURO per month.. ouch.. that quite a bit of money… and you don't even own the software use license (since it's rental… not paying = not able to run it anymore).
    Also many tools are not needed for starters/indies…. like houdini, speedtree, world machine, substance suite (3d coat can do pbr really well, among other advanced painting options) to mention some…

  6. VenenderViper

    Great content, brother! Really enjoy your videos! And want to be like you. What a brain! How many years you are in 3D? How many years did it take to reach your lvl?

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