- Half-Life 2
Cover art showing the series' protagonist, Gordon Freeman
Developer(s) Valve Corporation Publisher(s) Valve Corporation
Distributor(s) Valve Corporation
Vivendi Universal Games (former distributor)
Electronic Arts (2005-present)
Composer(s) Kelly Bailey Series Half-Life Engine Source Platform(s) Microsoft Windows
Mac OS X
Release date(s) Microsoft Windows
- November 16, 2004
- November 15, 2005
- October 10, 2007
- December 11, 2007
- May 26, 2010
Genre(s) First-person shooter Mode(s) Single-player Rating(s) Media/distribution Optical disc, download System requirements Microsoft Windows
- Windows XP or later
- 1.7 GHz Intel or AMD Processor (3.0 Ghz recommended)
- 512 MB of RAM (1 GB recommended)
- DirectX 8.1 graphics card (DirectX 9.0 recommended)
- Sound card with speakers or headphones
- Internet Connection
- Input - Keyboard & mouse
Mac OS X
Half-Life 2 (stylized as HλLF-LIFE2 or simply as λ2), the sequel to Half-Life, is a first-person shooter video game and a signature title in the Half-Life series. It is singleplayer, story-driven, science fiction, and linear. Developed by Valve Corporation, it was initially released on November 16, 2004, following a protracted five-year, $40 million development cycle, during which a substantial part of the project was leaked and distributed on the Internet.
Like its predecessor, Half-Life 2 was met with near-unanimous critical acclaim. It was praised for its advanced physics, animation, sound, AI, graphics, and narrative. The game won 39 "Game of the Year" awards, and several publications have named it "Game of the Decade". Over 6.5 million copies of Half-Life 2 were sold at retail by December 3, 2008, making it a bestselling PC game. This figure does not include the significant number of sales through Steam. It has since been revealed that the game sold 12 million copies as of February 9, 2011.
Half-Life 2, like its predecessor Half-Life, is a singleplayer first-person shooter broken into chapters, and permanently casts the player as Gordon Freeman. The sequel has nearly the same mechanics as Half-Life, duplicating its health and weapon systems for combat and including periodic puzzles. The player also starts without items, and slowly builds up an arsenal over the course of the game. A similar diverse set of enemies are present with different tactics; some coordinate in groups, some fly, some use predictable but powerful attacks, some are armed, some utilize melee and/or swift movement, and some rely on lurking and/or obscurity. Gordon can still kill enemies directly with his weapons, or indirectly using environmental hazards such as explosive barrels and gas fires.
The game's original features utilize its detailed physics simulation. Two sections of the game are played by driving vehicles. New environmental puzzles are also introduced through makeshift mechanical systems. Unlike the scripted, button-based puzzles of Half-Life, these revolve around the player's intuitive new ability to pick up, move, and place objects. Solutions involve objects' physical properties, such as shape, weight, and buoyancy. For example, in the first chapter the player is required to stack up crates and barrels, and climb on them to escape through a high window. Part-way through the game, Gordon acquires the gravity gun, which allows him to push large objects and to grab smaller objects from a distance and fling them away at high speeds. These abilities are required to solve some puzzles, and can also be used in combat.
The game does not have cutscenes, and no formal explanation of the story is given. Instead, the player is left to piece together the hints and clues in each chapter. Much of the overarching story that links with Half-Life can be understood through the interactive non-combat scenes with the game's major characters. The facial animation system allows these characters to have realistic expressive interactions with each other.
Half-Life 2 is a work of science fiction which presents a dystopian alternate history of Earth in which the resources of the planet, seemingly including the human species itself are being harvested by an oppressive multidimensional empire, known as the Combine. The game is set around the fictitious City 17, somewhere in Eastern Europe, almost 20 years after the events of Half-Life. During Half-Life, the scientists at the game's Black Mesa Research Facility cause an interdimensional instability, known in the series as a resonance cascade, which Gordon tries to resolve. However, by killing the overlord of the attacking "border-world", Xen, Gordon unwittingly widens the dimensional rift, which leads to disasters on Earth.
Some time after the ending of Half-Life, this instability attracts the attention of the Combine, and they invade. Humanity surrenders at the conclusion of the resulting Seven Hour War. City 17 becomes the home of the gigantic Combine Citadel, and Dr. Wallace Breen, who had managed "the Earth's surrender," is appointed there as Administrator to supervise the survivors on behalf of the Combine. Unable to procreate because of the Combine suppresion field, humanity matures, and no children remain. The Combine implements a brutal police state of Civil Protection officers and Overwatch soldiers, and the underground Lambda Resistance forms.
The game begins as Gordon Freeman is brought out of stasis by the mysterious G-Man and is "point inserted" into a train nearing its destination: City 17 (Point Insertion). After arriving at the station and eluding Combine forces, Gordon joins the underground Lambda Resistance organized by fellow friends and scientists from Black Mesa, including: Barney Calhoun, who is working undercover as a Combine CP officer; and Alyx Vance, the daughter of one of Gordon's former colleagues, Dr. Eli Vance. After a failed attempt to teleport Gordon to Black Mesa East from Dr. Kleiner's makeshift laboratory ("A Red Letter Day"), Gordon, who is re-equiped with the HEV suit and crowbar, is forced to embark on foot through the city's old canal system (Route Kanal). After obtaining an airboat and escaping with the Combine after him, he eventually reaches Black Mesa East, several miles from the city. Gordon is reintroduced to Eli, who has aged greatly since the first Half-Life , and is briefed by Dr. Judith Mossman about the current state of affairs. Alyx, who is glad to see him, introduces Gordon to Dog, her car-sized pet robot, and the gravity gun (or, more properly, the Zero Energy Field Manipulator, "if you really want to" call it that). Without any warning, the lab comes under Combine attack, and Eli is captured and taken to the Combine prison Nova Prospekt, while Mossman cannot be found. Gordon and Alyx are forced to take separate ways to Nova Prospekt; Gordon is to detour through the zombie-infested town of Ravenholm, with the help of its last survivor, Father Grigori ("We Don't Go To Ravenholm..."). After venturing through a mine and combating snipers, Gordon makes his way with a Tau cannon-rigged dune buggy along Highway 17. He eventually helps one of the resistance leaders, Colonel Odessa Cubbage, defend resistance points at Newland Odessa and Lighthouse Point from an impending Combine assault.
After traveling past Lighthouse Point and crossing an antlion-infested beach, Gordon and Alyx meet in Nova Prospekt. They manage to locate Eli, and discover that Mossman is a Combine informant (Entanglement). Before they can stop her, she teleports herself and Eli back to City 17's Citadel. They attempt to follow her, but the teleporter blows up as they are sent out of Nova Prospekt, the resulting explosion obliterating the facility.
Through sheer luck, they rematerialize in Kleiner's lab. However, to both Gordon and Alyx's horror, they learn that they were caught in what a shaken Dr. Kleiner calls "a very slow teleport," during which a week's time had passed. During their absence, the Resistance, who heard about what had happened at Nova Prospekt, has mobilized against the Combine, turning City 17 into a warzone. During the battle, Alyx is captured by the Combine and taken to the Citadel (Anticitizen One).
With a final bit of help from Dog and some final encouragement from Barney ("Follow Freeman!"), Gordon enters the Citadel to rescue Alyx and Eli. However, he is caught in a Combine Confiscation Field chamber that destroys all of his weapons except for the gravity gun; instead, the energy "backfires" and enhances the gravity gun's capabilities, allowing Gordon to escape and dispatch platoons of Citadel soldiers with ease. Eventually, Gordon is captured riding in a Combine transport pod and is taken to Dr. Breen's office, where he and Dr. Mossman are waiting with Eli and Alyx in captivity (Dark Energy). Dr. Breen begins to explain his plans for further conquest of the humans by the Combine, contrary to what he told Dr. Mossman. Angered, Dr. Mossman frees Gordon, Alyx, and Eli before they are beamed off-world. Dr. Breen tries to escape through a Dark Energy portal, but Gordon and Alyx pursue him and destroy the reactor with the supercharged gravity gun. Breen is annihilated in the resulting explosion. Just before the pair are about to meet a similar fate, time suddenly stops. The G-Man reappears, and praises Gordon, now calling him "Doctor Freeman," for his actions on the job before putting him back into stasis, apparently leaving Alyx to face the explosion alone. Gordon and Alyx's fates are later revealed in Half-Life 2: Episode One.
For Half-Life 2, Valve Corporation developed a new game engine called the Source engine, which handles the game's visual, audio, and artificial intelligence elements. The Source engine comes packaged with a heavily modified version of the Havok physics engine that allows for an extra dimension of interactivity in both single-player and online environments. The engine can be easily upgraded because it is separated in modules. When coupled with Steam, it becomes easy to roll out new features. One such example is high dynamic range rendering, which Valve first demonstrated in a free downloadable level called Lost Coast for owners of Half-Life 2. HDR is now part of all Valve games. Several other games use the Source engine, including Day of Defeat: Source and Counter-Strike: Source, both of which were also developed by Valve.
Integral to Half-Life 2 on both the Windows and Mac platforms is the Steam content delivery system developed by Valve Corporation. All Half-Life 2 players on PC are required to have Steam installed and a valid account in order to play. Steam allows customers to purchase games and other software straight from the developer and have them downloaded directly to their computer as well as receiving "micro updates." These updates also make hacking the game harder to do and has thus far been somewhat successful in staving off cheats and playability for users with unauthorized copies. Steam can also be used for finding and playing multiplayer games through an integrated server browser and friends list, and game data can be backed up with a standard CD or DVD burner. Steam and a customer's purchased content can be downloaded onto any computer, as long as that account is only logged in at one location at a given time. The usage of Steam has not gone without controversy. Some users have reported numerous problems with Steam, sometimes being serious enough to prevent a reviewer from recommending a given title available on the service. In other cases, review scores have been lowered.
The book, Half-Life 2: Raising the Bar, revealed many of the game's original settings and action that were cut down or removed from the game. Half-Life 2 was originally intended to be a darker game with grittier artwork, where the Combine were more obviously draining the oceans for minerals and replacing the atmosphere with noxious, murky gases. Nova Prospekt was originally intended to be a small Combine rail depot built on an old prison in the wasteland. Eventually, Nova Prospekt grew from a stopping-off point along the way to the destination itself.
Half-Life 2 was merely a rumor until a strong impression at E3 in May 2003 launched it into high levels of hype where it won several awards for best in show. It had a release date of September 2003, but was delayed. This pushing back of HL2's release date came in the wake of the cracking of Valve's internal network through a null session connection to Tangis which was hosted in Valve's network and a subsequent upload of an ASP shell, resulting in the leak of the game's source code and many other files including maps, models and a playable early version of Half-Life Source and Counter-Strike Source in early September 2003. On October 2, 2003, Valve CEO Gabe Newell publicly explained in the HalfLife2.net forums the events that Valve experienced around the time of the leak, and requested users to track down the perpetrators if possible.
In June 2004, Valve Software announced in a press release that the FBI had arrested several people suspected of involvement in the source code leak. Valve claimed the game had been leaked by a German black-hat hacker named Axel Gembe. After the leak, Gembe had contacted Newell through e-mail (also providing an unreleased document planning the E3 events). Newell kept corresponding with Gembe, and Gembe was led into believing that Valve wanted to employ him as an in-house security auditor. He was to be offered a flight to the USA and was to be arrested on arrival by the FBI. When the German government became aware of the plan, Gembe was arrested in Germany instead, and put on trial for the leak as well as other computer crimes in November 2006, such as the creation of Agobot, a highly successful trojan which harvested users' data.
At the trial in November 2006 in Germany, Gembe was sentenced to two years' probation. In imposing the sentence, the judge took into account such factors as Gembe's difficult childhood and the fact that he was taking steps to improve his situation.
Ports and updates
On December 22, 2005, Valve released a 64-bit version of the Source game engine that theoretically takes advantage of x86-64 processor-based systems running Windows XP Professional x64 Edition, Windows Server 2003 x64, Windows Vista x64, or Windows Server 2008 x64. This update, delivered via Steam, enabled Half-Life 2 and other Source-based games to run natively on 64 bit processors, bypassing the 32-bit compatibility layer. Gabe Newell, one of the founders of Valve, stated that this is "an important step in the evolution of our game content and tools," and that the game benefits greatly from the update. The response to the release varied: some users reported huge performance boosts, while technology site Techgage found several stability issues and no notable frame rate improvement. At the time of release, 64-bit users reported bizarre in-game errors including characters dropping dead, game script files not being pre-cached (i.e., loaded when first requested instead), map rules being bent by AI, and other glitches.
An Xbox port published by Electronic Arts was released on November 15, 2005. While subject to positive reception, critics cited its lack of multiplayer and frame-rate issues as problems, and the game received somewhat lower scores than its PC counterpart.
During Electronic Arts's summer press event on July 13, 2006, Gabe Newell, cofounder of Valve Corporation, announced that Half-Life 2 would ship on next-generation consoles (specifically, the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3) along with episodes One and Two, Team Fortress 2, and Portal in a package called The Orange Box. The Windows version was released on October 10, 2007 as both a retail boxed copy, and as a download available through Valve's Steam service. The Xbox 360 version was also released on October 10, 2007. A PlayStation 3 version was released on December 11, 2007.
On May 26, 2010, Half-Life 2, along with episodes One and Two, was released for Mac OS X. Portal was made available for the platform on May 13, 2010, and Mac support for Team Fortress 2 was added on June 10, 2010, completing the The Orange Box package. Valve began selling The Orange Box for Mac OS X on May 26, 2010, despite the notable absence of Team Fortress for about a month.
Reception Aggregate scores Aggregator Score GameRankings 95.3% (PC)
Metacritic 96/100 (PC)
Review scores Publication Score 1UP.com 9/10 Edge 10/10 (PC) Game Informer 9.5/10 (PC)
Game Revolution A- GameSpot 9.0/10 (PC)
GameSpy  GameTrailers 8.5/10 IGN 9.7/10 (PC)
Maximum PC 11/10 Official Xbox Magazine 8.5/10 PALGN 9/10 PC Gamer US 98% Play Magazine A (PC)
The Cincinnati Enquirer  The New York Times Positive
Half-Life 2's public reception was overwhelmingly positive in terms of reviews, acclaim and sales. Forbes reported on February 9, 2011 that the game has sold 12 million copies. It received an aggregated score of 96% on both GameRankings and Metacritic. Sources such as GameSpy, The Cincinnati Enquirer, and The New York Times have given perfect reviewing scores, and others such as PC Gamer and IGN gave near-perfect scores, while the game became the fifth title to receive Edge magazine's ten-out-of-ten score. Critics who applauded the game cited the advanced graphics and physics. Maximum PC awarded Half-Life 2 an unprecedented 11 on their rating scale which normally peaks at 10, and named it the "best game ever made".
In a review of The Orange Box, IGN stated that although Half Life 2 has already been released through other mediums, the game itself is still enjoyable on a console. They also noted that the physics of Half-Life 2 are very impressive despite being a console title. However, it was noted that the graphics on the Xbox 360 version of Half-Life 2 were not as impressive as when the title was released on the PC. GameSpot's review of The Orange Box noticed that the content of both the Xbox 360 releases, and PlayStation 3 releases were exactly alike, the only issue with the PS3 version was that it had noticeable frame-rate hiccups. GameSpot continued to say that the frame rates issues were only minor but they were a significant irritation.
Several critics, including some that had given positive reviews, complained about the required usage of the program Steam, the requirement to create an account, register the products, and permanently lock them to the account before being allowed to play, along with installation difficulties and lack of support.
Half-Life 2 earned 39 Game of the Year awards, including Overall Game of the Year at IGN, GameSpot's Award for Best Shooter, GameSpot's Reader's Choice — PC Game of the Year Award, Game of the Year from The Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences, and "Best Game" with the Game Developers Choice Awards, where it was also given various awards for technology, characters, and writing. Edge magazine awarded Half Life 2 with its top honor of the year with the award for Best Game, as well as awards for Innovation and Visual Design. The game also had a strong showing at the 2004 British Academy Video Games Awards, picking up six awards, more than any other game that night, with awards including "Best Game" and "Best Online and Multiplayer."
Guinness World Records awarded Half-Life 2 the world record for "Highest Rated Shooter by PC Gamer Magazine" in the Guinness World Records: Gamer's Edition 2008. Other records awarded the game in the book include, "Largest Digital Distribution Channel" for Valve's Steam service, "First Game to Feature a Gravity Gun", and "First PC Game to Feature Developer Commentary". In 2009, Game Informer put Half-Life 2 5th on their list of "The Top 200 Games of All Time", saying that "With Half-Life 2, Valve redefined the way first-person shooters were created".
Half-Life 2 was selected by readers of The Guardian as the best game of the decade, with praise given especially to the environment design throughout the game. According to the newspaper, it "pushed the envelope for the genre, and set a new high watermark for FPS narrative". One author commented: "Half Life 2 always felt like the European arthouse answer to the Hollywood bluster of Halo and Call of Duty".
Since the release of Half-Life 2, Valve Corporation has released an additional level and two additional "expansion" sequels. The level, "Lost Coast," takes place between the levels "Highway 17" and "Sandtraps" and is primarily a showcase for high dynamic range rendering (HDR) technology. The first expansion sequel, Half-Life 2: Episode One, takes place immediately after the events of Half-Life 2, with the player taking on the role of Gordon Freeman once again and with Alyx Vance playing a more prominent role. Half-Life 2: Episode Two continues directly from the ending of Episode One, with Alyx and Gordon making their way to White Forest Missile base, the latest hideout of the resistance. A further episode is set to be released in the future, dubbed Episode Three, completing a trilogy. In an interview with Eurogamer, Gabe Newell revealed that the Half-Life 2 "episodes" are essentially Half-Life 3. He reasons that rather than force fans to wait another six years for a full sequel, Valve Corporation would release the game in episodic installments. Newell admits that a more correct title for these episodes should have been "Half-Life 3: Episode One" and so forth, having referred to the episodes as Half-Life 3 repeatedly through the interview. In a May 2011 interview with Develop, Newell states "Two episodes later, that model has been completely replaced".
Since the release of the Source engine SDK, a large number of modifications (mods) have been developed by the Half-Life 2 community. Mods vary in scale, from fan-created levels and weapons, to partial conversions such as Rock 24, Half-Life 2 Substance and SMOD (which modify the storyline and gameplay of the pre-existing game), SourceForts and Garry's Mod (which allow the player to experiment with the physics system in a sandbox mode), to total conversions such as Black Mesa, Dystopia, Zombie Master or Iron Grip: The Oppression, the last of which transforms the game from a first-person shooter into a real-time strategy game. Some mods take place in the Half-Life universe; others in completely original settings. Many more mods are still in development, including Lift, The Myriad, Operation Black Mesa, and the episodic single-player mod MINERVA. Several multiplayer mods, such as Pirates, Vikings and Knights II, a predominately sword-fighting game, Insurgency: Modern Infantry Combat, which focuses on realistic modern infantry combat and Jailbreak Source have been opened to the public as a beta. As part of its community support, Valve announced in September 2008 that several mods, with more planned in the future, were being integrated into the Steamworks program, allowing the mods to make full use of Steam's distribution and update capabilities.
A 1 GB portion of Half-Life 2 became available for pre-load through Steam on August 26, 2004. This meant that customers could begin to download encrypted game files to their computer before the game was released. When the game's release date arrived, customers were able to pay for the game through Steam, unlock the files on their hard drives and play the game immediately, without having to wait for the whole game to download. The pre-load period lasted for several weeks, with several subsequent portions of the game being made available, to ensure all customers had a chance to download the content before the game was released.
Half-Life 2 was simultaneously released through Steam, CD, and on DVD in several editions. Through Steam, Half-Life 2 had three packages that a customer could order. The basic version ("Bronze") includes only Half-Life 2 and Counter-Strike: Source, whereas the "Silver" and "Gold" (collector's edition) versions also include Half-Life: Source (ports of the original Half-Life and Day of Defeat mod to the new engine). The collector's edition/Gold version additionally includes merchandise such as a T-shirt, a strategy guide, and a CD containing the soundtrack used in Half-Life 2. Both the disc and Steam version require Steam to be installed and active for play.
A demo version with the file size of a single CD was later made available in December 2004 at the web site of graphics card manufacturer ATI Technologies, who teamed up with Valve for the game. The demo contains part of the opening level of the game, and also part of the chapter "We Don't Go To Ravenholm." In September 2005, Electronic Arts distributed the Game of the Year edition of Half-Life 2. Compared to the original CD-release of Half-Life 2, the GOTY edition adds Half-Life: Source.
On September 20, 2004, the gaming public learned through GameSpot that Sierra's parent company, Vivendi Universal Games, was in a legal battle with Valve Software over the distribution of Half-Life 2 to cyber cafés. This is important for the Asian PC gaming market where PC and broadband penetration per capita are much lower (except Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea, Japan and Taiwan). Therefore, cyber cafés are extremely popular for playing online games for large numbers of people.
According to Vivendi Universal Games, the distribution contract they signed with Valve included cyber cafés. This would mean that only Vivendi Universal Games could distribute Half-Life 2 to cyber cafés — not Valve through the Steam system. On November 29, 2004, Judge Thomas S. Zilly, of U.S. Federal District Court in Seattle, WA, ruled that Vivendi Universal Games and its affiliates, are not authorized to distribute (directly or indirectly) Valve games through cyber cafés to end users for pay-to-play activities pursuant to the parties' current publishing agreement. In addition, Judge Zilly ruled in favor of the Valve motion regarding the contractual limitation of liability, allowing Valve to recover copyright damages for any infringement as allowed by law without regard to the publishing agreement's limitation of liability clause.
On April 29, 2005, the two parties announced a settlement agreement. Under the agreement, Vivendi Universal Games would cease distributing all retail packaged versions of Valve games by August 31, 2005. Vivendi Universal Games also was to notify distributors and cyber cafés that had been licensed by Vivendi Universal Games that only Valve had the authority to distribute cyber café licenses, and hence their licenses were revoked and switched to Valve's.
All listed tracks were composed by Kelly Bailey. Purchasers of the Gold Package of the game were given (among other things) a CD soundtrack, titled The Soundtrack of Half-Life 2, containing nearly all the music from the game, along with three bonus tracks. This CD is available for separate purchase via the Valve online store.
Tracks 15, 16, 18 and 42 are bonus tracks that are exclusive to the CD soundtrack. Tracks 44 to 51 are tracks from the game that did not appear on the soundtrack CD. Many of the tracks were retitled and carried over from the Half-Life soundtrack; The names in parentheses are the original titles. Tracks 34, 41, and 42 are remixes.
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- ^ Valve Corporation. Half-Life 2. Scene: Introduction. Level/area: Point Insertion. "[at the start of the game, over a psychedelic series of images calling back to Half-Life and forward to the final levels] The G-Man: Rise and shine, Mr. Freeman. Rise and...shine. Not that I wish...to imply that you have been sleeping on...the job. No one is more deserving of a rest, and all the effort in the world would have gone to waste until...well...let's just say your hour has come again. [...] The right man in the wrong place can make all the difference...in the world. So, wake up, Mr. Freeman. Wake up and...smell the ashes..."
- ^ Valve Corporation. Half-Life 2. Level/area: "A Red Letter Day". "Isaac Kleiner: What do you mean, "he's not there"?! / Eli Vance: He didn't come through! / Isaac Kleiner: Then...where is he?! / Eli Vance: (noticing Gordon just outside of the window) Behind you. / Isaac Kleiner: (turns) AH! / Eli Vance: Shut it down, shut it down! / Isaac Kleiner: Gordon! You must get out of here! RUN! / Barney Calhoun: Get down outta sight! I'll come find you!"
- ^ Valve Corporation. Half-Life 2. Level/area: "A Red Letter Day". "Barney Calhoun: Oh, and before I forget—(picks up crowbar)—I think you dropped this back at Black Mesa! (drops the crowbar to Gordon) Good luck out there, buddy! You're gonna need it."
- ^ Valve Corporation. Half-Life 2. Level/area: Black Mesa East. "Dr. Eli Vance: Now, let's see: the last time I saw you, I sent you up for help after the resonance cascade. Heh, I never though it would take you this long to get back to me!"
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- ^ Valve Corporation. Half-Life 2. Level/area: Entanglement. "Isaac Kleiner: (shocked) Alxy? Gordon?! My god, how did you two get here? And when? / Alyx Vance: Are you okay? / Isaac Kleiner: My dear, I had given up all hope of ever seeing you again! / Alyx Vance: (to Gordon) I was afraid we might not make it, either... I think the teleport exploded just as we were going out... / Isaac Kleiner: Indeed it did! The reprecussions were felt for miles, but...that was over a week ago!"
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