Hyperspace Beacon: SWTOR’s game-changing expansion

As I’m writing this, it’s been several hours since Jeff Hickman, the general manager for Star Wars: The Old Republic, stepped on the stage at E3, yet my head is still spinning from all the information that BioWare dropped about its MMORPG. Perhaps it’s the games journalist in me, but I have far more questions than opinions about what we all saw today. I am both intrigued and a little scared, and I’m also extremely disappointed that SWTOR didn’t get more time on that stage if for no other reason than to explain what the hell we just watched.

I’m a person who likes to keep his sanity, so the first thing we need to do is separate the fact from the fiction. It’s also good to know what we do know and what we don’t know. Only after I’ve gathered all the information can I even begin to form a respectable opinion. So let’s do that. What do we know as truth, what has been speculated but not truth, and what does Knights of the Fallen Empire mean for the game itself?

HSB-KotFE-Koth-ConceptThe facts

I’ll mix in some story elements when I talk about this, but to be honest, there are so many holes in the story right now that it would be difficult to even piece together anything nearing a storyline. But that’s not going to stop me from trying!

Our character — no matter the faction, no matter the class — will be placed in carbonite sometime during the level 60 storyline, according producer Bruce Maclean. Our character will wake up several years later, and for some reason he or she is the only hope for the galaxy.

While we were sleeping, the Empire of Zakuul and the Emperor of the Eternal Throne have all but wiped out both the Empire and the Republic. Emperor Valkorion’s sons, Arcann and Thexin (I might have spelled that second character’s name wrong; I’ve only heard it), lead the armies of Zakuul and destroy the Sith, the Jedi, the Empire, and the Republic equally.

After everything is conquered, the twins present their trophies to their father, who turns his back on them both. As we saw in the trailer, this eventually leads to the brothers fighting each other and Arcann killing his brother in a Cain-and-Abel story. However, instead of the father casting out the Cain-like character, Valkorion finally accepts Arcann as his son.

According to Maclean, the player’s story starts right after the trailer.

We know that the player starts out, once again, with a nearly blank slate. Of course, everything that happened prior — everything in vanilla SWTOR — still happened, but since ours characters have not been around for many years, all our companions and everyone we knew before have more or less scattered to the four corners of the galaxy. In fact, part of the storyline will involve reacquiring some of those companions. However, we also know that there will also be completely new companions for our character, including the smuggler from the Returned trailer, Nico Okarr. He is our reward as for subscribing to the game by July 31st.

Additionally, we know that the level cap will increase to 65, and we will gain new abilities. Players will also be able to make new characters that are already level 60. Some have speculated that this means players can make only one level 60, but the phrasing that Maclean used suggested that any new character you make will have the option of being promoted to level 60.

hsb-mop-kotfe-SkyscraperCity

Speculations and untruths

According to the Polygon interview, players will gain five new companions through the journey, but we don’t know whether those are completely new companions, reacquired companions, or five completely new characters that we’ve never had as companions before. According to the unsourced Reddit post making the rounds today, there will be only one brand-new companion, but you will get to pick that companion from a total of three options.

After waking up from years of sleep, your character becomes known as the Outlander, but we don’t know what that means for class stories. There appears to be a lot of PR-speak around this subject. If everyone is known as the Outlander, we are left to assume there is one story with a lot of branching dialogue. This would fall in line with what BioWare has suggested in the past: that there would be no more class stories at the level we’ve seen up to now.

However, the KOTFE (I’m totally calling it cot-fee or coffee from now on) page says that we can “play one of eight class stories enhanced to offer a deeper, more accessible experience.” Does that mean that our former class story will actually make a difference in the upcoming story? I’m speculating that it will, but only in a minor sense. I doubt it will even be big enough to be called a sub plot.

hsb-mop-kotfe-lanaMind blown

There are so many things still unknown about the implications of changing the story this drastically. For some reason, the first mechanic that came to my mind is Crew Skills. It’s years later and your companions have scattered. Of course, you will eventually get some of them back, but that will clearly take time. What happens to your Crew Skills while you’re leveling up? Do you start over again with no way to access them? Or will you retain the companions and reputation you had with them in a kind of separate bubble from the vanilla game?

And what about mechanical things that you earn during the vanilla game that you won’t have after the expansion, like your ship? You just woke up from who knows how long. Unless your ship was put into some kind of cold storage just as you were, then that will be gone, too. Or does it exist somehow in the same outside-of-time bubble as crew skills?

My last major concern is the payment model and release cadence. Although I personally love the fact that subscribers get the expansion and its chapters for free, what does this mean for players who don’t stay subbed? I’m subscribed, so I will have everything there is to have. Understandably, not everyone is as dedicated to the game as I am. If those players let their subscriptions lapse, will they still have access to the content they played previously, or do they get cut off?

Furthermore, BioWare promised the first nine chapters at launch and then one chapter a month in 2016. First, how big is a chapter? And second, it is the exceptionally rare MMO studio that can keep up with a once-a-month content update, so why does BioWare think it can?

Just as it was supposed to, the teaser from E3 left more questions than answers, and who knows how many of those BioWare will be willing to answer this week. Massively Overpowered has reporters in the field at E3 gathering as much information as they can. Hopefully we’ll get some solid answers. In the meantime, I will be scouring the internet for all the information I can find.

Every other week, Larry Everett jumps into his T-16 back home, rides through the hypergates of BioWare‘s Star Wars: The Old Republic, and posts his adventures in the Hyperspace Beacon. Drop him a holocom on Twitter @Shaddoe or send him a transmission at larry@massivelyop.com. Now strap yourself in, kid — we gotta make the jump to hyperspace!
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167 Comments on "Hyperspace Beacon: SWTOR’s game-changing expansion"

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Porculasalvania
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Porculasalvania

Carbonite?  Blank Slate?  It’s almost like one’s “meaningful” choices in the past got a bit less meaningful.

Feydakin
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Feydakin

I really do love SWTOR, but I wish they didn’t lock so much of the end game group content behind paywalls (subscription and somewhat exorbitant a la cart prices)… The expansion seems like it’s going to be amazing, so I’ll at least be back for that.

Peregrine_Falcon
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Peregrine_Falcon

spoilofthelamb Thanks for that!
Yeah there’s story development, but what I meant is that it looks like the original class stories are essentially nullified by the whole frozen and go forward in time thing.

Akami
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Akami

Cosmic Cleric Akami ESO, GW2, Archeage, Aion, i could go on and on…

Caec
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Caec

NinjaApacHe Caec I’ve been subscribed, non-stop since day one. ;)

NinjaApacHe
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NinjaApacHe

Elikal Ialborcales You are already playing in the past when you roll a new character. For this reason I do not see any problem. The problems come when a level 65 goes to Tatoine: is a different Tatoine from that of levelling characters from 1 to 59 or it is the same?

spoilofthelamb
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spoilofthelamb

On the contrary-ign is reporting companion story development. Your previous choices could decide whether you have a choice to kill your class’ companion and replace it with another class’.

fangGWJ
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fangGWJ

PhoenixDown No.  I think it is a blatant copy of what WoW and EQ 1/2 have done.  It doesn’t seem like an overwhelming success so far but the concept that new players will be able to play with their veteran friends is a valuable one.
I am just not sure that this is better than thing like scalable content or mentoring that already exist.  But it generates cash shop revenue so WIN!!!!!

fangGWJ
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fangGWJ

Red Alert  fangGWJ So it is WoW’s Cataclysm in SWTOR but you start at level 60 and only 5 levels of it with a promise to do monthly updates by devs that have yet to prove they can work even remotely close to 1/3 that pace?
And the direction seems a vague: “we are going to reboot, and do the same things but different but mostly the same, and um…. *buzzwords* choices matter!”

Neo_Wolf
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Neo_Wolf

Elikal Ialborcales Neo_Wolf Not quite sure where you getting your pricing.. but the expansion is FREE to subscribers, if your not a subscriber pay your $15 and you avoid all those incidental costs you exaggerate above.

Even easier is to subscribe for several months and get a security key and then use your monthly stipend of cartel coins to buy all the optional unlocks you want then unsubscribe.

Elikal Ialborcales
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Elikal Ialborcales

Bannex19 Thanks Obama! XD

Elikal Ialborcales
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Elikal Ialborcales

Deadborder I hear ya. The only plausible way would be, they came from another galaxy.

Elikal Ialborcales
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Elikal Ialborcales

Neo_Wolf For a bargain of $29.99 per new companion. $10 extra for unlocking their name, $10 for them not being nekkid, and another $10 so you can remove the helmet that otherwise constantly covers their face in dialogues.

Elikal Ialborcales
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Elikal Ialborcales

Hm. The big question is: do they backchange the 1-60 content? I mean, if the Galaxy was conquered by – where the heck did they even come from? – some New Empire, then how can we play 1-60 content in a time bubble of the past? Does that make sense?
Second, sorry while the trailer looked cool, the idea to introduce two characters only to kill one off already in the trailer seems like poor storytelling. “I once had a brother for like 4 minutes.” And then how exactly is that brutality different from the Sith? Are they not just Sith by any other name? o.0

Third and finally… the F2P mode is virtually unplayable with all the many inhibitions. Just saying.

Space_Ghostal
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Space_Ghostal

I am so excited for this expansion. No matter what MMO I try I keep coming back to SWTOR.

NinjaApacHe
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NinjaApacHe

Caec Bla Bla and Bla. This game should have been dead after 2 months, but after 4 years it is still here. More people like you more this game will live. So go on, doomsayer!

NinjaApacHe
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NinjaApacHe

Another question I would like to ask: If there are no republic and sith empire anymore, what factions will we have to chose? And will we be able, finally, to betray a faction and swap to the other?

NinjaApacHe
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NinjaApacHe

I’m really excited about it, but my very first hope is that they change engine.

Red Alert
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Red Alert

fangGWJ Yes, it is game changing. And i mean story-wise. Your character litterally starts from zero, years after being carbonized, called the “Outlander” and a “Great Galactic War veteran”, having lost all his companions in a galaxy that’s been changed dramatically since a new power has become the dominant faction after defeating both the Empire and the Republic. It’s like Bioware tells you that once you get to lvl 60 you go over a reboot and start your saga again at what appears to be Swtor 2.  Like i said story-wise and lore-wise totally a game changer. And that(story and lore) was always Swtor’s main selling point.
What you’re taliking about (space smuggling, bounty missions, lvl caps, gear grinds) are just gimmicks. I’m not saying i wouldn’t like them, but they’re just fluff and in no way game changing.
But i guess it’s just a matter of perspective.

PhoenixDown
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PhoenixDown

Don’t you think that the whole “you can start at level 60!” is a preparation to release new classes? It makes sense. Force the new class to start at level 60 so you don’t have to make the costly >60 content. New companions mean that you won’t have to make new companions etc etc.

crawlkill
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crawlkill

SwobyJ I’d heard that was ostensibly the philosophy in the previous expansion, too, and then the class portion was very minimal? whatever the case, I think the less class distinction, the healthier the development prospects will be.

Caec
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Caec

Considering how minuscule past “expansions” have been, I wouldn’t expect the “chapters” to be all that big, hence their confidence in being able to release one a month. 
That said, I’m still mildly optimistic that there is some apparent twitch of life in the dev team (I consider the incredibly anemic expansions up to this point an indication the game has been operating at just barely above skeleton crew level). Those 4+ min Blur CGI trailers don’t come cheap, so while I’m 99% certain there’s a lot of market speak in here and that this isn’t going to be nearly as epic as portrayed, I am fairly confident it’ll be far preferable to the near-ennui of the game over the past few years. 
The time skip gives them a natural reset, both in-game and in the real world. Time will tell how committed they really are. I’m mildly hopeful. :)

sray155
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sray155

SwobyJ sray155 When the pinnacle of character progression is locked behind raiding that’s “raid or GTFO” design. That’s still the overall design philosophy that we see at work in most theme park MMORPGs at the moment. 

Yes, many MMORPGs are starting to back away from this (perhaps realizing that this is literally the only game genre where pinnacle progression is locked behind what is considered “pinnacle content”; whereas it is the reverse in pretty much every other video game genre, including standard RPGs), but the advantages given to raiders (regardless of how raids are defined in a given game) in terms of character progression are absolutely massive due to a character progression model that heavily favors a minority. This continues to create game environments where these minority players have a large advantage over the majority in terms of power versus the game’s environment, which translates to an advantage in player to player economic interactions. Until MMORPG game designers start to run from this model like the plague that it is, the genre’s growth will continue to stagnate.

johnmynard
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johnmynard

ComradeStanimir Simply for a historical perspective:
Battles rarely mean anything to anyone, on either side, as recently as 10 years after the fact.  Historically speaking, battles are points of contention that arise when to or more lines on a map intersect at a location that has value for one side or the other.  If that value is lost or changes, the battle does become meaningless.  This is the nature of war.  It all seems important at the time and indeed might be important at that time, but victory is sadly a transient thing and easily forgotten.  In space warfare, where the points of contention are artificial, destroying the space station the enemy is launching their attacks from denies them the ability to make war in the area that station serves.  But stations can be rebuilt, given time.  So, battles are meaningless in the long term, as is war, it’s only real value from a purely pragmatic perspective being to accelerate technological development.

Peregrine_Falcon
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Peregrine_Falcon

So instead of continuing and further developing the various class stories they decided to just ****-can the original stories and move on to something completely different?
“I got a bad feeling about this, Chewie.”

ark211049
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ark211049

Deadborder 

E3 2015: SWTOR Knights of Fallen Empire rumors are true

scroll down in the comments a bit, someone asked largely the same as you and i addressed it

SwobyJ
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SwobyJ

crawlkill There will still be class quests. Just now, it seems that they’re intertwined with a larger plot, instead of being the core plot themselves (which the class quests at launch mostly were).

SwobyJ
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SwobyJ

ComradeStanimir My impression so far (just addressing warzones for an example):

1)Warzones are timelocked. Forget about canon. They’re just fun places to kill other players. They mattered in story (kinda) in the earlier levels, but now you’re just killing other players. Just play.

2)They can only create content so fast, man! Give them more time (2016-2017) to make PvP content that is relevant to the more recent plot!

Really, same goes for flashpoints. They’re just historical recreations and you don’t need to think about fitting a timeline. After a while (2016) they’ll add enough flashpoints that, you know, fit the story.

The impression I got so far is that MMO content like flashpoints, operations, PvP making sense is just secondary to advancing the SP/Co-op storyline. After a while, the MMO content catches up in its story.

When you go back to old instanced content, you’re just going back in time. That’s it. Take it or leave it.

Ironwu
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Ironwu

Actually sounds interesting, and something new to me.
So, I have fired up my subscription and will get my Jug going again and ready to see what they have in store.
The Class Story line was always my favorite part of SWTOR anyway.  Quests are quests, but the story for the Jug was really fine.
I tend to vote with my wallet, and I vote for this new direction!

SwobyJ
Guest
SwobyJ

Deadborder Yeah seems crazy, and it could be just what you said, but I also wouldn’t be surprised if the Emperor does have a part to play in this, considering how I saw the latest content about him end.

SwobyJ
Guest
SwobyJ

sray155 The movement for MMO design conversations overall has been ‘okay, we have a kind of raiding or raiding-like content, but its also going to be available to smaller groups, even if they get less gear and/or less chance at gear’. Neither ‘raid’ or ‘GTFO’ but rather ‘raid-ish’.

SwobyJ
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SwobyJ

ColdinT He’s probably just an early release of a character who will be available to everyone/all subscribers when the expansion actually launches.

SwobyJ
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SwobyJ

SallyBowls1 I really don’t know about fleet ships, and I have ideas about pre-expansion content, but Treek and HK clearly won’t be taken away. Bioware will find some way (either a handwave with no story, or a short optional scene somewhere) to have us keep what many of us paid for.

SwobyJ
Guest
SwobyJ

Sorenthaz The factions will be effectively pointless, but they don’t need to be pointless in terms of some minor gameplay and for story dialogue trees, etc. They’re still things. This is just the way that Bioware gets the server community unified without Bioware having to bother with getting cross-server tech to work. Ha.

Empire and Republic won’t be wiped out. A ‘fall’ is not a ‘death’. Their role will just be relatively minimized, due to what we’ll probably see in story events and new planets/versions of planets where Empire and Republic have been defeated. We may have factional ties (in story), but those ties may be optionally cut (I’d love to do that with a Light Side Sith Inquisitor!).

crawlkill
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crawlkill

condensing all the class missions into one line is a very wise move in terms of future development. I’m sure some people were still interested in their stale, what, three-years-gone plot, but that approach to development could never be cost-effective. more shared content between players means more content for everyone.

SwobyJ
Guest
SwobyJ

rottenrotny It is SWTOR canon. Trolling but actually not trolling. Its its own world, you can accept it or not. (I’m fine with either – I’m not being antagonistic)

SwobyJ
Guest
SwobyJ

Shaddoe Sarigar Oh. That’s good. Very good.

SwobyJ
Guest
SwobyJ

Rokford None of these will likely drastically change. You can only hope for better art and graphical design (with the tools they got) for the planets, models, and animations.

SwobyJ
Guest
SwobyJ

Polyanna I don’t mind losing stuff in itself, but I sure as hell want the RPG trope of (basically) ‘looking into a chest and finding all my old stuff’ (more or less, and I’d accept it happening spaced out in the story).

SwobyJ
Guest
SwobyJ

JonBuck Story-wise? Not necessarily. For all we know, this expansion is just a detour in order to  get the factions (in gameplay, server) together, but after it, war (in story) brews again, and all that’s changed (in story) is that we’re more of a free agent character with more choice than ever (more single player story mode stuff going on).
Just a hypothetical. Nothing of this says ‘Empire and Republic will never fight again’ – it only says ‘your character becomes a veteran of a galactic war and now is onto greater things alone’. War can still happen again, but the context of your character will be forever changed.

SwobyJ
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SwobyJ

Bobuster Its almost like going B2P.

SwobyJ
Guest
SwobyJ

Ironweakness That’s what I’m nearly expecting. Basically a giant nerf (maybe not done all at once, but at least their goal) of Lv 1-60 to be an optional prequel, while this expansion is the soft mark of ‘SWTOR 2’.

SwobyJ
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SwobyJ

jmerriex Tamanous Story can be great as long as you either always have more to do when you sit down and play, or you always see something cool on the horizon. SWTOR decided it couldn’t do either, so it doubled down (after making its F2P) on the MMO elements – dungeons, raids, PvP, dailies, with relatively token story.
With the decline (IMO) of the MMORPG occurring (not saying it will DIE, ok? haha), they’re taking action on the biggest actual demand from players and will be trying a regular, monthly/bi-monthly story for, I guess, up to a year.
This can be great if there is enough interesting/varied choice-consequence. Otherwise, funneling everything into a single ‘Outlander’ narrative could very well kill interest in SWTOR. 
But at least in terms of the idea, I’d love to be an Outlander if it meant that I can still continue as my class int he story and do class and faction specific things *when its relevant*.
A downside is that it seems everyone is the ‘Outlander’, and I dunno how that’ll work immersion-wise, unless everyone is ‘an outlander’ (general survivor, maybe the 8 class characters still ‘exist’) but your character only plays as THE Outlander.

SwobyJ
Guest
SwobyJ

cursedseishi On one hand, choices from Lv 1-50/60 may matter more than ever. If only because Bioware is stating a renewed commitment to choice-consequence. On the other, they probably won’t matter a lot, except in terms of ‘callouts’ for the most part (like the Mass Effect 1-2 transition or Dragon Age 1-2-Inquisition transitions).

Still, that would be more than what players have mostly gotten so far, hypothetically.

It could end up as almost like a new game. And this is for better and worse.

SwobyJ
Guest
SwobyJ

Vexies SirUrza They’ve spoken of doing streamlining of pre-60. To me, this doesn’t mean destruction of the 1-60 story, but instead a forming of it into a much more single questline, and an increase in minimizing any MMO elements that just act as busywork. At first this’ll be just merging class+planet storylines and giving much better rewards for doing it (while ignoring all the side content that no one likes to do), but eventually this may mean removing/altering the side content. IMO.

SwobyJ
Guest
SwobyJ

SirUrza Two possible answers for these things (both could apply at the same time, too):
1)Time lock. Zones are mostly stuck in their time of plot. No planet is getting destroyed here.
2)Empire and Republic ‘falling’ is about as impactful as the Jedi ‘falling’ with losing their Coruscant Temple. That is, there was story and content to reflect changes, but by any large, there’s still lots of Jedi around. So there will still be an Empire and Republic, but what will happen is a slew of changes (just not UTTER TOTAL TRANFORMATIONS) that reflect that they’re both hurting enough to a)No longer/barely exist as a Republic and Empire, b)be forced into practically merging.

So what I’m saying is that we’re not getting a Cataclysm treatment. Or rather, it’ll be closer to a mix of phasing and the less-changed Cata zones (the ones that just got streamlined, not utterly transformed).

LTDR: Strongholds are fine. A supermega empire roflstomping your faction doesn’t mean that all of all of the planets are going to be scorched landscapes. Its more like a ‘half-Cata’, with most substantial changes happening post-60.

All of this is subject to BW clarification, of course.

Telwar
Guest
Telwar

It’s the SW:G dream.

Pesko
Guest
Pesko

Sarigar I cast Magic Missile. I’m attacking the Darkness!

Pesko
Guest
Pesko

KamaKuro …Just in time to meet Jar Jar.

Pesko
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Pesko

SirUrza PurpleCopper Except something this drastic might have, you know, made it into the histories.

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