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OlliOlli Mixes Up A Salad Grind Of Awesome

If you combined the 8-bit motif of an endless runner like Canabalt with the skateboarder based gameplay of a Tony Hawk, what would you get? You would get my latest gaming addiction called OlliOlli. The newest game from developers Roll7 released this past week has been in constant rotation on my Vita system.

OlliOlli satiates all my sensory needs while providing hours of drop in-drop out gameplay with its easy pick up and play feel. A simple control scheme consisting of different holds on the left analog stick will get you started with basic tricks. Adding quarter-circles and pushes of the left or right “triggers” will add spins and more difficult maneuvers to the mix. Doing all this, and hitting the “X” button right when you land will end that particular trick string and get you a combined score.

Performing all these tricks at first was daunting; you quickly learn the cadence of pulling off a move then adding a quick grind to build speed and momentum. This inertia is important both for finishing the level and clearing upcoming gaps in the track.  The learning curve can be steep if you want to complete each level’s task, but man is it satisfying when you do. Seeing your score grow with each perfected trick never gets old and committing each stage to memory so you can get better scores is never tiresome.

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I’m Better Than You

Taking a page from the genius that is Spelunky’s daily challenges Roll7 added their own version for OlliOlli. They even did one better by letting you practice your run before having to take on that particular day’s course.  I’ve found that weirdly no matter how much I practice it adds an extra level of angst to my daily run. I get so nervous trying to put up a good score that I wind up falling on my face way earlier than I’d like, even with that said I’m really happy the option is in there.

The Award For…

Whoever was in charge of music for this game needs to be hugged, promoted and paraded through the Canyon of Heroes. I’ts been a very long time since I’ve played a game where the fusion of soundtrack and gameplay worked so flawlessly together. Pulsating bass-y tracks featuring various genres ranging from Electronic to Bebop Jazz are there to soak in and add to the total experience. If you would like to check out some of the songs go here:

Check out track  number eight “Long Arm” from The Roots, it is by far my favorite and is REDONKULOUSLY DOPE!

Huge shout out to Nick Kosmides for putting this together on Youtube.

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People who are looking for a game to pick up on their Vita system must pick this one up. OlliOlli 50/50 grinds its way between accessible for those on-the-go and folks who have been looking for deceptively deep scoreboard climbing play. Roll7 has made a superb game I am excited for what comes next.

If you’ve played OlliOlli, let us know what you think of the game so far in the comments below.

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Playstation Plus Just Makes Cents

The price of being a gamer has increased exponentially in the past few years, between being nickel and dimed from developers with various forms of DLC. Gamestop being Gamestop with their relentless price gouging, and with the industry still not having a consumer friendly pricing scheme for digital content. It feels like things will just get worse before they get better for our wallets and purses.

But if you are a Sony console owner you have one of the best bang for your buck deals going in Playstation Plus. Some of the best games of last gen are on sale with their “14 for 14″ promotion for both the PS3 and Vita. Here are the lists of games being offered for both platforms. This promotion runs from the January 14th to the 20th!

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Amazing games like Enslaved, Crysis 3, FarCry: Blood Dragon, Pool Nation and the season pass for The Wolf Among Us for less than $20 are a steal on the PS3. The prices are way cheaper than you could find at Gamestop and you would never have to leave your home to get them. How dope is that?

Vita owners might be the winners in this deal with some of the better offerings on the list. Killzone: Mercenaries, Thomas Was Alone, the entire Walking Dead first season and my favorite;  Soul Sacrifice are there a super low prices too.

And if you didn’t think that was enough two of the best games of 2013, Bioshock Infinite and the scariest game I’ve ever played Outlast are joining the roster for FREE.

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outlastSales and free games like these have only really been seen during Steam sales, but Sony has found a way to pull big games to their subscription service. That is a huge deal and hopefully one that will continue well into the future not just on Sony platforms, but industry wide. $50 for a PS+ membership at this point is a no-brainer and if you haven’t jumped aboard the savings train you are doing yourself a disservice.

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Without An Iota of Doubt, You Must Play Tearaway.

When Media Molecule first came on the scene with Little Big Planet in 2008, they pushed the creative boundaries of user-created content in a way that was never seen before on console (as well as introducing us to Sony’s de-facto mascot Sackboy). Fast-forward to 2013 and we are again treated to another masterful game by the Surrey, England based developers in the form of the papercraft-themed Tearaway.

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I can easily say after completing the game that it surpassed my already high expectations, provided numerous memorable moments, and absolutely should be in the running for one of the best games of 2013.

Tearaway opens a story-book world in which your character is a whimsical paper puppet envelope named Iota or Atoi.  Figuratively and literally you are a message being sent to you the player.  In a continued effort to engage the player, the world casts you as the other major character in the narrative. You play the role of the sun and are shown in the world via the Vita’s front camera.

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Small ideas like this wrap the world around you and at the same time ground you in it. Tearaway’s characters and enemies are absurdly cute. New gameplay and puzzle elements are introduced over the game’s five plus hours. Locales and environments evolve and are stunning to play in.

CRAFTY, CRAFTY, CRAFTY

I really don’t know if I have enough adjectives to describe how gorgeous Media Molecule’s take on papercraft is. Colors are vibrant and pop off the OLED screen, intricate touches are all over the game. The ways paper elements bend, crumple and fold give everything in the world a faithful and tactile feel. Background and foreground elements animate with an almost stop-motion feel that gives things like the blue uncurling paper of a waterfall, or the origami shape of a squirrel, a very stylized look.

Style isn’t just about your surroundings, here. Iota/Atoi have a bundle of customizable parts that you can mix and match to make the character you’re playing entirely unique.

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At some points, you are tasked with making your own accessories for Atoi, with construction paper, pencil and scissors. Or, you can purchase from pre-configured options for facial features and accessories, using confetti, the in-game currency.

Confetti is everywhere: you can earn confetti by picking up pieces that are strewn around the world, opening up hidden gift boxes, or using your camera to bring silhouetted papercraft characters and objects back to life.  The camera also plays into the confetti system, allowing you the ability to purchase different lenses and filters.

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I found camera inclusion extremely fun and don’t think the game would have been the same without its incorporation. You can tell that in the development phases of the game the team put a real emphasis on uses of the in-game and Vita cameras, and those implementations. I found myself stopping everywhere in the game to take pictures of the world and selfies of me with grazing elk in the background. To my surprise at the end of my playthrough I’d taken almost 100 pictures.

The game’s soundtrack is another highlight. Genres run the gamut from ska to celtic with a dub step beat to straightforward orchestral score, all without skipping a beat or ever sounding out of place. And a pro-tip: play the game with headphones on, as the environmental sounds are amazing as well. Massive kudos goes out to the sound team on this one.

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VITA SHOWCASE

Tearaway is by far the most compelling reason to buy a Vita, and the best game you could own for the system. It utilizes all the functions of the system in ways that are inventive and fun, and is ripe for replaying. Throughout the whole experience you never feel like the game asks you to do something that doesn’t make sense or asks too much of the hardware itself.  Use the front touch to draw an item on the craft table? Done. Press the rear touch pad to move a puzzle element into place? Gotcha. Take a picture of your real world environment to apply as a skin for a character? Bam! Again it seems like intense thought went into how best to mesh the user experience and hardware to make the Vita an enjoyable device to use—and it all works flawlessly.

If there was ever a love letter to a piece of hardware, Tearaway is it. It is very rare that a game pulls off all its proposed ideas with such a deft hand, and it really makes you wonder why Sony didn’t have MM working on Vita games before Little Big Planet Vita.

A MUST PLAY

I know I’m gushing but I absolutely loved the time I had with this game. Everything from traversing the levels to collecting the papercraft figures (that you can print out online), to taking pictures of the world made me again appreciate the genius that runs through the Media Molecule team. Tearaway, like Game-of-The-Year Journey, was an experience for me, more than just a game, and one that I will have fond memories of for a lifetime.

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You Do Have Things To Play, Ya Big Baby

[dropcap style=”4″ text=”A”]round this time of year the yells from the mountaintop are numerous and deafening from gamers about how they don’t have anything to play. Well we at the TheSpawnPoint are going to do you a favor and tell you what to play until you all get your grubby hands on all that luscious next-gen hardware in a couple of months.

THE WALKING DEAD: 400 DAYS

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The bridge between TellTale’s blockbuster hit Walking dead game and its sequel comes in the form of this small but awesome game called 400 Days. You as the player come across a gas station with a bulletin board with numerous pictures and messages. This serves as the character select screen for you to experience the vignetted backstory and journeys of the upcoming games’ cast. Although shorter than the episodes of the first game, the stories feel fresh and fleshed out. In classic Walking Dead style you will be put in some hand-wringing situations that will leave your hands petrified while trying to figure out the “right” thing to do. The game leaves you off right in the perfect spot, salivating for more. It’s a great quick play and for fans of the series is just what we wanted.

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 BIOSHOCK INFINITE DLC

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My feels on this game are already well documented but with incoming DLC the game is going to be even better. “Clash in the Clouds” is the first morsel from the Season Pass to be released and its super fun. Traversing over and around the gamespaces on the ziplines feels great, the arena combat although a tad repetitive gives the player a massive amount of challenge. “Blue Ribbon Challenges,” in fact, are your motivation and the bane of your existence. Performing certain tasks while dispatching baddies gives you a score boot and some personal bragging rights while you try to top the global leaderboards. The DLC is a entertaining tide-you-over until the narrative stuff comes down the pipe. I wish it had a little more to offer than stationary figure models and background music but it still can provide hours of enjoyable gaming.

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 DRAGON’S CROWN

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Right now this game is getting an amazing amount of burn in my Vita, causing my poor carpal-tunneled hands to throw up imaginary gang signs. Vanillaware has produced a GORGEOUS 2D side-scrolling beat-em-up with a Diablo-esque loot drop system. DC is addictive and might be your new reason to purchase the handheld. Fear not, console fans, the game is also on PS3. Six playable characters fit nicely into the classic dungeon crawler milieu that we’ve all become familiar with, and the game shines and pops with character. Beautifully done voice-over work compliments the whole package and immerses you in the lore. Gameplay is lightning fast and provides a little something for everyone. Brawlers and melee lovers will have the Amazons and Knights to play with while magic lovers will have Sorcerers and Wizards with which to do their bidding. With peaks and valleys in the difficulty, Dragon’s Crown provides massive fun in a little package.

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These are just a few of examples of the bounty to be played during the great gaming drought of 2013, and that doesn’t even delve into the back catalog of already-released games like The Last Of Us, Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon, Hotel Miami and others. So stop ya whining and get gaming.

Let us know what you’ve been up to this summer on the gaming side of things below.

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Guacamelee es magnífico!

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Review

It looks as if the Indie game movement is saving us again from what could be an anemic spring/summer release schedule. Drinkbox Studios comes to the rescue with its wonderfully done Luchador-themed brawler, Guacamelee. The game exhibits lots of flair while being extremely accessible — it provides MetroidVania veterans a challenge, while giving newbies an opportunity to embrace the genre.

The main character of the story is a lowly farmer named Juan, who finds himself confronted by a demon in skeleton form. This mysterious creature grabs your would-be love interest, kills you, then skitters away to complete his plan of world-ending domination. While in the afterlife, you are met by a female luchador who bestows upon you a magical mask that both brings you back to life and imbues you with the strength and speed of ten Koko B. Ware‘s.

You can tell by the cadence and snark-laden story that the folks at Drinkbox have really hit their stride when spinning a comedic yarn. The jokes are funny, the memes timely, and gaming callbacks just numerous enough to not be overdone. You can tell that they love games and love having a good time; that they appreciate traditions without taking themselves too seriously. This light and airy feel is evident within the art style as well. Guacamelee taps into Mexican folk art themes and Day of the Dead lore, jumping easily between the worlds of the living and the dead. A cartoonish Mexican town is your playground, laced with beautiful earthy tones with huge splashes of neon pastels around every corner. I played the game mostly on my Vita, but when I transitioned to the PS3 via my cross-save (more on this later) the colors jumped off the screen. Along with the gorgeous graphics comes a fun soundtrack that blares mariachi and electronic music that really fits the aesthetic and ties the package together nicely. The game feels like a lighthearted homage to old-school Mexico, with a layer of modern self-effacing humor on top.

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Guacamelee’s combat is mostly of the combo/brawler style. Later in the game you meet a recurring character that gives you more wrestling moves to add to your arsenal. The interactions with him are some of the best in the game and provide a small shout out to Metroid along the way. The controls are easy to pick up and provide all the tools you’ll need to dispatch of the enemies once they get bigger and stronger.

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The game wraps in about six hours but felt just right. It will take you longer depending on how completion-ist you are or how long it may take to get through some of the trickier platforming levels. Boss encounters are really well done and challenging. Interactions with the town’s people provide fun and silly side quests that don’t feel tedious, and if you wish you can even play with two people on the PS3

For a $15 price tag ($12 if you are a Playstation Plus member) you get a wonderful experience chock full of dopeness. I honestly think if you’ve been looking for a game that is great for pick-up-and-play purposes, you can’t really beat this one.

Kudos to Sony

Besides the awesome game and reasonable price tag, there are a couple of other things of note with this package. Some months ago Sony started rolling out some games under their “Cross-Buy” banner. So if you owned a PS3 and a Vita you could basically get the game on both systems at one price. Guacamelee is one of those games. Usually with a feature like this, the cross-save feature is implemented sloppily or in a convoluted way within the game. But Drinkbox does this simply and eloquently. Navigate through a couple of screens, upload your save, head to your home console, download and you are playing where you left off.

If this is a glimpse of what Sony was taking about with the connectivity between the PS4 and Vita, then I’m sold. It works extremely well and made me love the game as a commuter. One other added bonus is “Cross-Control”: you can also use the Vita as a second controller via Remote Play! The Vita’s screen becomes the games mini-map while you control the game you see on the television.

I love stuff like this and thought it was an awesome addition to the game. If you’d like some instructions on how to get this up and running check out the blog post on the Guacamelee site

The Champ is Here

After finishing the game I totally understand why there were long lines and lots of smiles to be seen coming from the Guacamelee station at IndieCadeEast this year. I wondered what all the commotion was about and now I get it. Beautiful games that provide nothing but fun should give people that kind of reaction. If you are tired of trudging through another shooter or sequel, you need to play and share Guacamelee with everyone you can.

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The Sound Shapers – Earl_LeeGrave

The “SoundShapers” is a series of articles and interviews that spotlight a different member of the Sound Shapes community weekly. Check out other posts here.

This week’s Shaper has shown a special ability to make a variety of levels that show off the versatility and nimbleness of both the editor and the creator. From intergalactic vistas to symmetrical playgrounds, he has an eye to make all of these ideas come to fruition.

This week’s Shaper is Earl_LeeGrave, and my favorites of his levels are:

“Fail_Jail…Bail? $1” – Reminds me of what working on a car assembly line must be like, in a good way. Every part of the level feels “made” for it. When I use the word “made,” I mean that the parts that make up each section don’t feel like they are made of separate pieces or come from the editor. They each feel whole and complete. Every small tunnel and elevator was concealed in such a way that it made everything feel very organic. I think this is a testament to how good a Shaper Earl is, and he should be applauded.

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“Tank_Trust” – Is a pretty quick level but is very well done. Again, Earl’s attention to detail helps to paint a weird otherworldly picture. From the beginning, the level starts with ominous visuals and tones. Cryptic messages fill the screen and propel you toward your first platforming stages. It makes you really wonder what is at the bottom of the rabbit hole. Having played so many Sound Shapes levels, Earl’s usage of some of the editor parts that I don’t see often implemented by other players is really appreciated and shows an “out of the box” mindset on how to make a level.

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“Lennut_Repus #ASYM” – I know that in the interview below Earl has given his opinion on which of his creations is his favorite, but I have to say this level is mine. What makes this level top notch is the great use of pacing. You are eased into the board by going through multiple desolate scenes with only haunting vocal chips in the background. It adds so much to the atmosphere in the level and really brings about a sense of anxiousness to get to the meat of the level. Once it kicks in, the melodies fit so perfectly with the visuals that it’s uncanny. The way it progresses shows there was lots of intent on making it this way. I really consider this one of the coolest levels in the community.

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Earl took some time out of his schedule to share some info about his background and how he makes his creations.

TSP: Give a little background on yourself and why you decided to play Sound Shapes.

Earl_LeeGrave: Earl_LeeGrave’s real name is Mike… 34 years old,  I live and have lived in Maine my whole life.  Outdoor enthusiast (mountain biking,  snowboarding,  etc),   have DJed house,  tech house,  drum & bass,  and trip hop for many years now.  I have a Bachelors in Graphic Design & Media Arts from Maine College of Art aka MECA.  I currently own a bicycle/backcountry ski shop in Portland, Maine which has continually grown in the 3 years I have co-owned it with my friend.  So far so good!  If you want to check the website and logo I designed it’s:  www.allspeed.com, also on Facebook under Allspeed Cyclery & Snow.

TSP: How do you plan out your levels? (Music first or art)

Earl: Sometimes I dictate the style of music to the visual flow I’ve created. Sometimes it’s vice versa and sometimes I’ll make adjustments as I go. “2_POINT…OH?!” was all about the music when I started. I then based the design and story around sticky ball escaping a futuristic fortress of sorts into nature and then fighting a war between aliens and humans. “BRAINSPLOSION!” was more of a collaborative effort between the music and the design for me. After the new DLC came out, I made a point to utilize all the new elements. I intentionally left enough dead space within the level to be able to place the notes where I wanted to, so I could build the music as well as the design of the level. I had the most fun making “BRAINSPLOSION!”; however, being my first curve-dedicated level, “BRAINSPLOSION!” was an appropriate title; the new curves are not the easiest elements to work with, but are fun!

TSP: Do you make your levels on the PS3 or Vita? What are your favorite levels that you’ve made and why?

Earl: PS3… I’m so used to the controls of PS3 and the zoomed in bigger screen for MAD detail YO, plus I’m plugged into a few decent speakers that I can crank!   To be completely honest, I don’t have one of those little fancy gizmos… I think the rest of my life would be gone and dedicated to SS if I had a Vita!  Queasy… should I sell my business and head to Canada? haha

“BEEJOOLED! #GRAV” was one of my favorite levels to make. It started out as a shout out to some of the friends I’ve been making in the SS community (TheBeejAbides & jool2306) and also to incorporate the “Gravity” theme of the week. It allowed me to be extra creative rather than stick to my usual style. The engagement box was falling through the world, while egg man chased it to the altar. Another level that I’d say is a favorite of mine is the HCL inspired by Daftbomb, called “COFFIN_HOPPER – HCL”. It seemed like he wanted other HCL’s to come out and nobody was doing it. I almost considered it as a sort of theme of the week. It’s super hard to play and it was super hard to make, there are no resets, but I had a blast making it.

TSP: What is the favorite level you’ve played and why?

Earl: I’m assuming this question is loaded. There are too many, so I’ll try and pick levels that I’ve played most recently. “Center of the Earth” by TetraGenesis. It seems similar to my style (underground, tunnels) but done very well, with textures, shadows and composition. Really great. Music was clean and sharp and it was super fun to play. I also really liked “Face it and listen” by Gezouten. Great beats, awesome graphic design, precise detail, very modern/minimal delightfulness! “Space Monster” by sukakika: nuts! reminds me of the insanity of me, and so well designed, real organic but not flawless. It was a lot of fun to play. Beautiful title page that wasn’t involved in the game, weird good stuff.

TSP: Any tips or tricks that you’ve learned?

Earl: Many times when I’m designing something very detailed after I’ve already laid out a lot of the level, I’ll step out into the white to work on it (such as text, or an egg man! :) then I’ll just copy and paste and drag it in. That way, while I’m designing it, I can see the image/text without all of the chaos of the level and since I’ve made a copy, I mess it up from alterations after I moved it into the level, I can always go back and make another copy and I won’t have to start from scratch with all that detail.

Also, when you’re designing a level and you make a screen or two, you have to play it over and over before you continue. It will help you figure out where you’re going, be it design, music, whatever. The flow of those two screens usually tells me if I want to keep designing to the left or to the right, up into the sky, or underground, how hard it is to play, etc.

TSP:  What would you like see added to the game in future updates that would make your creations even better.

Earl: More unique, low-memory shapes and red evil goons, more bass line packages and wacky sounds!

BOOM… if you could, Spawn Point, a “few” other quick shouts out for those creators with sick design and sound that stick out in my brainsplosion at the moment!  old_poptarts, redespair, tonytough, gasssst, sleeester, guycohen2, outtooman, mercuryant, gemuvan, threepwoodsin, sephiroth_brazil, bluebebleu, indoor_squid, dustinisgood, iwillforget, reinokid, oh-yeah ps, retrosteveuk, cloudtheknight, pikathon, flashquickster… and many more believe it or not!

Before I sign off, I want to thank each and every Shaper for being a part of this amazing series. I have been extremely fortunate to have made new friends and gaming buddies through this. I’ve spoken with people from all over the world from so many different walks of life. It’s been so fun to get a peek into the lives of so many wonderful gamers. A very special thank you to one of the most innovative and special gaming devs in gaming today Queasy Games. Your ability to create such a great game and bolster the community by giving them both the tools and a true voice for feedback is what makes this game and your company very special. I really appreciate everything you’ve done to help my share my blog and it’s meant the world to a budding blogger like me.

I am extremely sad that the #SoundShapers series ending but excited for what comes next and hope that all of you fine folks that have come back every week continue to check in on us and share the love. Without all of you we wouldn’t be here and are eternally grateful.

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The Sound Shapers – Old_PopTarts

The “SoundShapers” is a series of articles and interviews that spotlight a different member of the Sound Shapes community weekly. Check out other posts here.

 This week’s shaper is a mainstay of the community and has made some pretty cool levels. I was attracted to some of his creations because I really like symmetrical levels. Many of this shaper’s levels are great because they are, in the words of Tart himself: short, sweet and to the point. They offer a challenge to both novice and veteran players and show that he has firm grasp of the platforming genre.

 This week’s Shaper is Old_PopTarts

My two favorite levels from Tarts were “Escape from Guantanamo Bay” and “Say CHEESE!!”(1sl).

“Escape from Guantanamo Bay” – was really fun to play because of how the red elements are placed in the level. The “kick box” enemies were placed in such a way that it reminded me of the game “Plinko” from “The Price is Right” TV show. You have to time out both your jump to avoid the boxes and where you land on the safe areas. It was a small part of the level but stuck with me after playing it.

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“Say CHEESE!!” – is a level that resembles what you would see through a camera’s viewfinder. You can see this from the level’s community screenshot but it looks even cooler when you play it. The level is pretty straightforward: dodge all the red dotted lines on the periphery while trying to gauge your jumps on and off the circular treadmill. It’s simplistic in its design, but challenging to finish. It took me more time than I thought it would to complete, but I felt like I accomplished something once I was done.

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After playing Tart’s levels I reached out to him for a quick interview:

TSP: Give a little background on yourself and why you decided to play Sound Shapes.

TART: State-side born in a town called Peoria in Illinois. You may have heard “If it plays in Peoria, it’ll play anywhere.” I’ve been a gamer since the first Nintendo system all the way to the Vita. I’ve always been into platformers and who doesn’t love music? A game that mashes them both intrigued me. I’m familiar with Jonathon Mak from the game Everyday Shooter so this game definitely caught my eye. It’s a very interesting concept and works very well in action. It’s a gem that I hope everyone has a chance to play!!

TSP: How do you plan out your levels? (Music first or art?)

TART: I like plan out my music first and get the basic layout of each screen before I start to shape my level. I find it’s much easier to start with symmetrical shapes for the whole screen and tweak from there. If you rush and just place notes randomly, there’s a chance your level won’t be as polished. You can have a whole song done but as you progress you replace certain sounds with entities from the game to compliment or replace without compromising the integrity of your song.

TSP: Do you make your levels on the PS3 or Vita?

TART: I had an unwanted visitor in my home back in May, so unfortunately I don’t have access to a PS3 at this moment. Soo I do all my Shaping on the PS Vita, which is extremely intuitive and very well thought out. I favor the touchscreen/pad in tandem. It really makes shaping and positioning a breeze.

TSP: What are your favorite levels that you’ve made and why?

TART: I would say my favorite level I’ve made is “Escape from Guantanamo Bay”. It was my first fully fledged level, albeit short, sweet and to the point, I believe it’s a well rounded level. I’m currently working on my next Sound Shapes level and it’s a bit more ambitious than “Escape from Guantanamo Bay” and I am having a blast making it. I really can’t wait to release it and see what others think of it!!

TSP: What is your favorite level you’ve played and why?

TART: Picking a favorite level I’ve played is an extremely tough choice. There are many works I am fond of by creators such as: Daftbomb, TheBeejAbides and TonyTough among countless others. Favorite levels from each would be “Cheer-up Buttercup” by Daftbomb, and “A Nightmare on Church Street” by TonyTough each respectively and in no particular order. If I missed you I am terribly sorry!!

TSP: Any tips or tricks that you’ve learned?

TART: Save and save often! I’ve heard of hours lost on projects due to nasty bug that is to be resolved soon. I have fortunately not had this issue (knock on wood.) I am still learning as I go, so I may not be that helpful. I gladly pass that on to Daftbomb and his instructional levels for just this! I will point out that you must take your time and try not to rush if you want your level to be polished and fun.

TSP: What would you like see added to the game in future updates that would make your creations even better?

TART: It has been mentioned before, but I would love an option to set the tempo for screens individually to set the right tone and send the right message. I would also love to see new Sound Shapes entities and new color palettes. An option to cue strings of levels and play them back to back would also be welcome. I would have loved to have a “ghost” mode as well but have been told Queasy Games would need a fully deterministic engine to do so :/

I would like to first thank Queasy Games and John Mak for this lovely gem. Everyone who even remotely likes platformers and music should give this game a go. I would also like to thank Kahlief for this opportunity to share my thoughts. Lastly I would like to thank the all the creators for giving me tons of content to obsess over! A special shout-out to Redespair, MilkManiac, DUSTINISGOOD and BeejAbides for setting such high bars on speed-runs and look forward to meeting you all on the Sticky Ball courts. ^_^

Big thanks goes out to Tarts for being a part of the series and sharing his thoughts on his work. A huge congrats also goes out to the SoundShapes crew for winning “Best handheld and Song in a Game” at this year’s VGA’s. Two really dope DLC launches this month wrap up a pretty amazing year for us as Shapers and there is more to come.  I can’t wait to see what new levels come about from all these goodies. As for us at the Spawnpoint, we are wrapping up our #SoundShapers series next week and we hope to see you there.

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D_MISE

The Sound Shapers-D_Mise

Speed runs have been a part of gaming for as long as I can remember. Playing through a speedrun to challenge yourself to get the best time tests both your motor skills and patience. This week’s Sound Shaper has figured a way to make his levels some of the most played and enjoyed ones in the community by applying a deft touch when creating his soundscapes. Many of his levels have the flow and feel of some of our favorite platformers but with, in my opinion, better music.

This week’s shaper is D_Mise.

D_MISE

“When We Were Stars” – With over 1000+ plays this level is an easy level to complete. I really liked the way the super chill music comes together in the level. Some well-placed catapults, tractor beams, and a diverse art style make up most of this level. I can see why it would be so popular because it lends to speed runs and is pretty straightforward. It’s a great palette cleansing level.

WHEN WE WERE STARS

“Prepare to Launch” – D_Mise created a very cool aesthetic, in this level with all of its intricate ornate details. I don’t know why I love the “Space Invader” catapults so much but they are really awesome in this particular level. I would say though the star in this space-themed level is the music. With each note it opens up into this really dope almost R&B track. I loved the music in this one and appreciate the level of detail D_Mise put into it. I can tell that he really cherishes the experiences he wants his players to have in his levels. I appreciate that greatly.

PREPARE TO LAUNCH

“Hurricane Refugee” – Again, attention to detail is the key in this level, not only in the platforming but the care D takes with the music and art – it’s beautiful to behold.  The level sounds like something from the climatic end scenes of a Tron movie. Little flourishes here and there that mash up multiple types of games and a heroic soundtrack make this a delight to play. I like the fact that D_Mise makes pretty short concise levels. The fact that they are so full of character is a testament to him and his creativity.

HURRICANE REFUGEE

After playing through some of his levels I asked D_Mise to hangout and speak with us.

TSP: Give a little background on yourself and why you decided to play Sound Shapes.
D_Mise: I’m a 25 year old college student from New York City, and I grew up in the 8-bit era, full of bloops and bleeps. I create a lot of abstract art in my spare time, usually while listening to music, so Sound Shapes is a natural fit for me. I’ve never tried my hand at making music (unless you count the 3-ish years of trumpet/drum lessons when I was younger), and music has been my main focus in this game.
I bought Sound Shapes with the intent of playing it on a flight over the summer. I tried it the night before, and by the time I hit the airport, I was up to Beat School and Death Mode challenges. The flight took 3 hours, but it seemed like 15 minutes!
TSP: How do you plan out your levels? (Music first or art?)
D_Mise: Like most have said, music first. When I make a level, I tend to wrap it onto itself, joining two separate music sequences that fit together. I often start a new level and create audio, save it, and forget about it until week later (I have published 6 actual levels, and I have audio for 6 others). When I finally get around to starting, I try to imagine what the music reminds me of, and jump off from there. I sometimes sketch out design possibilities during my classes, since it’s usually on my mind all day.
Because audio is the primary focus of my levels, I tend to make them less challenging, with emphasis on flow of movement. I try to make them speed-run friendly, with lenient checkpoints and ample opportunity to hold the run button!
The art comes last, and I try to make nice looking stuff, especially in the rooms that are more challenging. The way I see it, if you’re gonna die 10 times, you might as well do it to some nice tunes and with some visual encouragement. Sometimes, my stuff turns abstract, and makes sense only to me. I’ll explain one of them later.
TSP: Do you make your levels on the PS3 or Vita?
D_Mise: Vita, for a lot of reasons. When I made my first level (“It’s Not Godzilla”), I made it on the PS3. Then, I uploaded it and later played it on the Vita, only to find that there were inconsistencies with audio and framerate. It’s almost unplayable toward the end! I never went back to try and fix it for the Vita, but it was a lesson nonetheless. Also, I’m rarely home (full time student, full time job), and I commute a lot, so the Vita is far more convenient, and Sound Shapes is my bread and butter.
TSP: What are your favorite levels that you’ve made and why?
D_Mise: “When We Were Stars” – This was my first “real” level. I wanted to tell an abstract story of a fallen star finding its way back. It starts out in the wreckage of collapsed stars, and then goes on to five dudes trying to recreate a star, then to a colder environment, and eventually ends on a collapsing frozen throne, before joining the stars. It ended up with a lot of plays in a short time, and I was flattered that the community liked it so much. So then I got cracking on a new level, and I released “Permission to Launch”. Both managed to break 1000 plays each, which I didn’t expect at all!
“Hurricane Refugee” – Was first called Hurricane Refuge (one letter makes a big difference to me). I had a lot of time on my hands during Hurricane Sandy, so I figured what better way to commemorate the occasion than to release a new level. I decided that the best way to make it through the actual storm was sleep (and Sound Shapes), and so, I mirrored that. You start in the clouds, enter a pipe into the night, and then enter another pipe into a dream. I used the deadmau5 orbit creatures to give it a hurricaney/cycloney feel, and there are 3 instances where you get hurled through the air. I like it because it’s a bit personal to me; it marks a natural disaster that kept me indoors for way too long, during a time where I felt I needed a break from the whole work and school grind. Creating became my outlet.
“Buggin’” – Man, this level was my first attempt to participate in the Theme-A-Week, and I chose #CRES, but I was nowhere near done by the next Theme-A-Week’s reveal. I suck! I decided to release it anyway, two weeks later without a fancy hashtag. While creating the track, I felt it reminded me of skittering sounds, so I chose some insects as a theme. Then, I made a spider, and called the level “Insectinoids.” Then, I realized that spiders aren’t insects, so after a grueling renaming process, I called it “Buggin.” The music ramps up toward the end, since the theme was #CRES. There’s no plot, no real continuity between segments; just some bees and earthworms and fire ants. I thought the music buildup was cool, especially the honeycomb room.
“Save The Princess! #ASYM (Symmetrical)” – I wanted to participate in a Theme-A-Week before the end of the world, and so I finally did with this level! My plan was to make a boss battle of some sort, along with a retro homage on the final screen. Once these ideas fell into place, the level and music created itself. I added a layer of urgency and tension through chat bubbles and sphincter moments. I’m strongly considering making a princess saga.
TSP: What is the favorite level you’ve played and why?
D_Mise: The very first level that floored me was the notorious “And I To Fire” by Jordanbuster. There’s a lot of depth to it, and I remember thinking to myself, “How much time did this take to make?” The more levels I create, the more I appreciate it. If there were a Sound Shapes vinyl, this would be track 1.
Also, there’s this way cool Metroidvania stage I remember playing that felt less like Sound Shapes and more like a Super Metroid 2 demo.
There are lots of others that I’ve played (I try to keep up with the Greatest Hits and levels on recent activity board), but I mainly watch my girlfriend play through the community levels. I help here and there, but there’s still a lot of rage quitting!
TSP: Any tips or tricks that you’ve learned?
D_Mise: A basic level making tip: make a blueprint. Lay out your sounds, and then put up giant sticky shapes to see how your level could progress. Toy with the BPM and scale, and if something interesting just isn’t working for your level, don’t be too proud to remove it! You can reuse ideas for future work, where it might just fall into place. A piece of advice I was given: if something is good, you can use it more than once. If something isn’t good, don’t use it ever again. Do what you want to do, and have fun!
After you have your blueprint, save and quit. Play your level and figure out if the audio/framerate dips and why. The answer is usually a clashing of two audio tracks that might play smoothly while editing, but for a freshly loaded playthrough causes lag. Another cause is the timing of getting certain notes, and the triggering of memory-heavy creatures and stuff.
Also, play test as often as possible! Force your friends, co-workers or whomever to play through it. Lure them with candy, beer, whatever it takes. I would get feedback like “I liked the other one better” from one person, with another saying the complete opposite. Take criticism well and often!
One trick: If you place a note and then place a duplicate note on top of it, it sounds louder for that slot (note: it can effectively stack ~4 times). You can use this for added emphasis on desired sounds within a loop or sequence. It’s very situational, but can bring something soft to the forefront in a major way.
TSP: What would you like see added to the game in future updates that would make your creations even better?
D_Mise: I’d love for more artists to lend more audio to play with. Maybe some Flying Lotus, Grimes (go Canada!), Anamanaguchi, or even Ronald Jenkees (awesome YouTube pianist) and Module (the guy who did the Shatter OST). Make it happen!
In addition to what a few others suggested (collaborative options, group rotating, screen by screen BPM editing, etc.), one update I’d like is a sort of chain trigger, which would hold off on playing a note/sequence until the entire chain is complete. I’m a fan of games that have some sort of huge payload, like getting a bajillion points at once, or massive critical hits. Perhaps this can lead to a scoring mechanic?
I’m just nitpicking though. I appreciate the simplicity (complexity?) of the creation engine, and the limitations encourage more original work.
Thank you for this way cool opportunity to talk about all this!

Big thanks to D_Mise and the Sound Shapes community for taking part in the series. The support has been really awesome especially from so many places around the world. Sound Shapes is truly an international phenomena and is bringing people together to create beautiful art. I’m happy to be a part of it and you should be, too.

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BREAKDOWN-ANOY

The Sound Shapers – Anoy337

The “SoundShapers” is a series of articles and interviews that spotlight a different member of the Sound Shapes community weekly. Check out other posts here.

The outstanding thing about the Sound Shapes community is that levels will bubble up through various means. Between chatter amongst the heavy hitters on PSN or the different filters on the Sound Shapes community website there are dozens of ways for players to find great content. While digging through my “following” list I saw that many of folk’s favorite levels were from this week’s shaper Anoy337.

Some of his stand-out levels that I have played include:

“Fatal Progress” – Levels like this are special because they take the usual platforming conventions and flip them on their heads. Usually you try to avoid things that can kill you, but in FP you embrace death by jumping into the red hearts on every screen. It also makes the save points (usually a good thing) into a total annoyance to run into. Hitting some of them will have you re-spawn in a part of the level that takes you away from your goal. It makes this level really challenging and almost Vita-chucking. The payoff is well worth it if you can keep pushing.

“Breakdown” – Breakdown sets you up to believe that it won’t be a pain in the arse, but you soon see that it’s devious, treacherous and beautiful. You can see that going into making this level Anoy had a plan, and it was to push players to think before you leap. Besides the actual plaforming, there are a couple of screens that are really gorgeous to look at.

“Bonus Round_01” – So far this is my favorite Anoy level. It plays like a side-scrolling version of the classic game “Mousetrap”. I really appreciate craftsmanship and this one-screen level is chock full of it. What makes it cool is that you have to open gates all around the screen through quick movement, precision jumping, and sequencing. It’s extremely well thought out and is challenging and fun to play.

After playing his levels I had to ask him some questions about his method.

TSP: Give a little background on yourself and why you decided to play Sound Shapes.
Anoy337: Hi all, my name is Lee and I’m a tattoo artist by profession. I’m mostly drawing on people but pretty much whatever spare time I have usually gets donated to video games. Among the many I enjoy is the gem that is Sound Shapes. The ability to use such an amazing platform to freely create your own “songs” is what won my heart.
TSP: How do you plan out your levels? (Music first or art?)
Anoy: To be honest I try not to have a standard approach to making the song but rather choosing my underlying concept first and then approaching it in whichever way is more practical for concept of song. Sometimes however I take a more loose approach and sort of try to let the song just make itself, if that makes any sense.
TSP: Do you make your levels on the PS3 or Vita?
Anoy: I use my lovely little lady, the PS Vita. Sometimes I play on my PS3 but I have made all my levels on my PS Vita thus far. I prefer the touch screen over cursor.
TSP: What are your favorite levels that you’ve made and why?
Anoy: Well this is a tricky one because I have lost many a level before doing online backups and some of them are amongst my favourites. My top published level would have to be “FATAL PROGRESS”. I could maybe have done more with the music but I love how it can make you fear save points if you play it too long, which is usually evident when you play a normal level afterwards. Also I felt making the only thing that could kill you in the level a heart seems to help you embrace death easier.
TSP: What is the favorite level you’ve played and why?
Anoy: There are so many amazing songs and creators out there it would be unfair to choose only one. A stage I enjoyed very much recently though was the “Shape Invaders Song” by Gasssst. It had some innovative game play ideas and a really nice style also. But with guys like Daftbomb, Beejabides, TT, Jool, Gezouten, Earlee and all the many other amazing Sound Shapers working hard, it’s guaranteed another winner song will be uploaded probably while you are reading this interview. Thanks again for making this possible Queasy Games and Sony.
TSP: Any tips or tricks that you’ve learned?
Anoy: Mmmmmmmmm…don’t use elevators the other way around, no matter how tempted. I recently learned that shapes isn’t enough for a good level; sound is also very important. Think about the player objectively when making your song and know who you’re trying to make the song for, even if it’s just for yourself. Most importantly don’t over complicate panels and try to spread out the songs; I struggle a lot with this one.
TSP: What would you like see added to the game in future updates that would make your creations even better?
Anoy: I heard something about a curve pack :) which was my only wish at first, but recently when getting into the sound side I find that a volume adjustment on individual game objects seems like something that could be very useful. I’m not too sure however on how the programming behind it would work so it might not even be possible. Other than that, maybe some weapons to fight back against the reds in Sound Shapes 2.

Anoy also gave us some shout outs:
I would like to thank Kahlief ‘kahjah’ and The Spawn Point Blog for this opportunity. You guys are doing an awesome job. Thanks also to all Sound Shapers for working hard at making dope levels and a very special thanks to all the queasies @Queasygames for making this amazing medium its truly the canvas of our time. You guys rule.

Thanks again to Anoy337 for sharing his great work with the community and taking time to chat with us at The Spawn Point Blog. We hope that you all are enjoying the #SoundShapers series and Sound Shapes. Check back here next week to see our interview with DUSTINISGOOD.

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GASSST-NAME

The Sound Shapers – Gasssst

The “SoundShapers” is a series of articles and interviews that spotlight a different member of the Sound Shapes community weekly. Check out other posts here.

I’ve asked all the Shapers the question, “How do you plan out your levels? (Music or art first?).” In my other life, I dabble in the art of beat-making and always try to make a good soundtrack for each of my levels. This week I introduce you to a member of the community that I believe to be not only one of the coolest level designers but one of the most musically-talented  Shapers we have.

This week’s shaper is Gasssst.

I picked three of his levels to talk about this week that I feel really stood out from his collection and the first one I’ll discuss today is “Alien.”

“Alien” is a short but visually striking level that is an homage to the classic movie. You start out by falling to the ground and dodging shapes that eventually spell out the level’s title. It’s subtle but really works well to bring about the feeling of emptiness and the void of space.  The soundtrack adds to this really well and Gasssst used some interesting tricks to add notes in some fun ways. There are also some cool movie callbacks that I won’t spoil, but it must have taken a long time to create those surprises.

“Deja-Vu” is a fun little level that plays on its title by placing you in a continuous travel through the same scene over and over, cutting off sections each time to funnel you toward your goal. It’s a quick play and smartly done level.

Although the above levels are excellent I will say by far my favorite level is “Let’s Go”. If you were to strip away all of the geometry and gameplay, it would easily be one of the best-sounding levels in the community. The really cool thing about it is that although it’s very short, it’s pretty challenging, and trying to manage very intricate jumps through a cavern is made better by its lively soundtrack. Again, I can’t stress the music enough in this level and it’s a must-play.

I want to give a quick note: Gasssst is probably best known for his “Jam” levels.  I played them but couldn’t get to the end of them. It’s a testament to his level-building skills and my ineptitude in finding the hidden tunnels, but from what I played I loved the music and visual style.

Gasssst was awesome enough to sit down and answer some of our questions:

TSP: Give a little background on yourself and why you decided to play Sound Shapes.
Gasssst: 34 Years Old, Swiss made, I love music, movies, art and games. I used to play bass guitar and drums in a few local bands when I was younger. Now I am mostly doing Hip-Hop beats and experimental sounds on Reason. When I first saw Sound Shapes in the PSN Store it jumped right at me because of the word Sound. So I watched the trailer and really loved the style of the game. I actually buy a lot of PSN games but this one was one of the best experiences I’ve had. Playing the story mode and Death Mode were very hard. But it’s one of the platinum trophies I’m most proud of. I wasn’t really excited about the editor at first, but then I played a few community levels and when I saw what is possible it kind of got me addicted. So thanks, Queasy, for saving me some money because there’s no need for other PSN games anymore. 😉
 TSP: How do you plan out your levels? (Music first or art?)
 Gasssst: In most of my levels I started with the music first. Usually with a simple bassline in the beginning. But for some of my levels, like “Deja-Vu” for example, I had to make the design first. My levels are all kind of short and I rarely get over three minutes of playtime. I just like short little levels. Most of my levels are very easy to play. This might be a little selfish, but I just want to have a good time playing my own stuff. When I play community levels I often quit if I have to try more than ten times on one spot.
 TSP: Do you make your levels on the PS3 or Vita?
 Gasssst: I created all of my levels on PS3. I have a Vita and I created two levels on it, but I didn’t like the design so I didn’t upload them. To me it seems very hard to design a level with the touchpad and screen. I guess I am just too used to the PS3 controller. But one good thing about the Vita is you get a second Platinum. 😉
 TSP: What are your favorite levels that you’ve made and why?
 Gasssst: My favorite levels I made are the Jam levels because of the Optical Illusions, which took some time to create. I played the levels “Another Problem” from gezouten and “Triptych” from Daftbomb. I love geometric forms and so I said if they can do something like that, I have to give it a try and see if I can do it, too. I already had some beats prepared in the editor so I just had to make them playable. It was great fun to design them and I took my time when making some nice thumbnails for the level. “Kir 1SL” is one of my favorites. I said I love short levels and it was the only level in which I created the thumbnail first. I just found out how to stretch objects and I tried to do something graffiti-like. When I was finished I loved it so much that I just needed to upload it, but you can’t just upload a thumbnail right? So I quickly created a 1SL for it, and it was not bad for a level I created in around 15 to 20 minutes. “Heat 1SL” was the first level that I put some details in and tried to make it look less chaotic than my earlier levels. At the time, it was the only 1SL where you could not die. And since I’m a huge fan of the movie it’s become one of my favorites too.
 TSP: What is your favorite level you’ve played and why?
 Gasssst: This is a really hard choice, because there are so many cool levels out there, so I will just name the ones that changed my way of creating levels. “Problem?” by Daftbomb – First it was just a trollface and then he added more and more notes to it, which I thought was a really cool way to make fun of those creators that add notes to get their “pole position” back in the leaderboards. It also was the level that showed me the possibility of hiding tubes, which was essential for my Jam Levels. “Another Problem” by gezouten – A really nice level with a lot of details and amazing Optical Illusions with a really hard way to find the exit. Thanks to getouzen for that great inspiration. “Cowboy Bebop” by DUSTINISGOOD – I’m a fan of the Anime. In fact I believe it’s the best Anime series ever, especially because of Yoko Kanno’s Soundtrack. She’s a genius and this level is a great tribute to it. The way Dustin drew those characters is unlike anything else in Sound Shapes. I really hope he finishes it one day and adds Jet Black and Einstein to it. “RED” by Tony Tough, “I had that Bus Dream” by BeejAbides, and “Life is Too Short” by jool2306 are also three of my most favorite levels because these three great creators tell stories in their levels. I haven’t seen anything like it in the SS Community Levels. There are a lot more levels that come to mind right but these are just some of the gems you find in the SS Community.
 TSP: Any tips or tricks that you’ve learned?
 Gasssst: The best trick is to play a lot of community levels because it shows you what is possible and gives you some input, which makes your own creations better. In my own levels I always try not to mix up too many different objects and to not end up with a totally chaotic looking level. It helps to make a thumbnail if you want your level to be played, or at least a name because no one likes to play the unnamed levels right?
 TSP: What would you like see added to the game in future updates that would make your creations even better.
 Gasssst: I think the best thing for me would be if you could choose to place notes over two screens, which would give you the possibility of making longer melodies. Ones that run on 32 steps instead of just 16, and maybe a few more Instruments to play with, like for example a Violin or a funky slap bass guitar or more snare and bass drums. In fact just more of everything that sounds cool. 😉

Huge shout out to Gasssst for all of his help with the #SoundShapers project, you should check out his other levels here

Next week: come back to check out our interview with SoundShaper Annoy337

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