PlanetSide 2 Tweak Guide

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General Optimization

By Sean Ridgeley

Planetside 2 is the recently released free-to-play MMOFPS that serves as a sequel to Planetside. Released nearly a decade ago, some herald Planetside as one of the greatest titles in the genre; Planetside 2 continues in a similar vein as its predecessor, pitting three different factions against each other in massive battles with hundreds of players at a time, all amidst a futuristic setting.

As a PC exclusive title, the game features plenty of graphics options, a user interface designed from the ground up for the mouse and keyboard, an engine supported by NVIDIA PhysX, day/night cycles, and more.

The purpose of this guide is to give you a reasonable understanding of the different graphics options available in Planetside 2 and how they impact both visuals and performance, so you can have a pleasant and optimal experience with your particular hardware setup. To accomplish this, screenshot comparisons are offered where appropriate, as is performance information. Just bear in mind performance will vary from setup to setup, and as such, this guide should be used as just that – a guide.

Before we get into it, be sure to go over the system requirements detailed below (recommended requirements are in brackets):

  • Processor: Intel Core 2 Duo E6850 or higher / AMD Phenom II X2 or higher (i5 / Phenom II X6 or higher)
  • Memory: 4 GB RAM (8 GB RAM)
  • Hard Drive:15 GB HD space
  • Video card: NVIDIA GeForce 8600 series or higher (NVIDIA GeForce 500 series or higher), 256MB RAM (1,024 MB RAM)
  • Sound Card: Direct X compatible
  • OS: Windows XP (Windows 7)
  • Internet: Internet connection required for download and authentication

General System Optimization

In order to optimize your game experience, it takes more than just tweaking different graphics options – your Windows installation should be properly maintained and configured in order to avoid instability, subpar performance, stuttering, and other issues. If you're not the efficient type, use our Stable Gaming Guide to help yourself out, and of course, make sure you have the latest Graphics Drivers.

Performance Measurement

To monitor the performance on your particular setup, you can use the Alt + F key combination to display your framerate in the bottom left corner of the screen. Observing it -- especially during intense combat with effects and/or hordes of soldiers filling the screen – will give you an idea of which settings you have to adjust in order to meet the recommended minimum 60fps for maximum smoothness, little or no stuttering, and competitive gameplay. Note the [CPU] and [GPU] tags next to the counter – you want to see [GPU] as much as possible (always is ideal), as otherwise you're limited to the power of your CPU and need to adjust settings and possibly even switch some hardware.

General Settings

To begin, launch Planetside 2 and click the Settings item in the lower right hand corner of the screen. From the General tab, you can make adjustments to key options like Mouse Sensitivity and Invert Vertical Look, ensuring you play exactly how you prefer. Graphics options which affect performance come later in this guide.

Zoom Toggle: If enabled, right clicking with your mouse while holding a weapon will keep you zoomed in until you right click again. Otherwise, you will remain zoomed only as long as you hold the right mouse button.

Sprint Toggle: If enabled, hitting the Shift key will enable sprinting until you hit it again. Otherwise, sprinting will take effect only while you hold the Shift key.

Mouse Sensitivity: This setting affects how responsive your mouse movements will be. If the slider is moved all the way to the right, for example, even a small twitch will result in a very wide angle of movement.

If after adjusting this setting, your movements still feel laggy, you should, if applicable, tweak your mouse settings (particularly DPI), as well as graphics options to keep your framerate above 30 at all times – Vsync should be paid special attention (generally, it should be turned off in-game; Adaptive VSync, found in the NVIDIA Control Panel, is an often better option worth considering).

Vehicle Mouse Sensitivity: This setting affects how responsive your mouse is while in land vehicles.

Flight Vehicle Sensitivity: This setting affects how responsive your mouse is while in air vehicles.

Scoped Mouse Sensitivity: This setting affects how responsiveness your mouse is while you are zoomed in with a weapon.

Use Raw Mouse Input: Enabled, any sensitivity and movement filters external to your mouse will be ignored, and only its internal settings will be observed. This option is generally recommended, as it offers increased responsiveness and predictability, particularly on quality gaming mice.

Joystick Sensitivity: This option affects how responsiveness your movements with a joystick will be.

Joystick Deadzone: Adjusting this setting will affect the region of movement not recognized by your joystick, allowing you to ignore the “jitter” when centered, which varies from joystick to joystick. Increasing this setting will increase the area covered.

Invert Vertical Look: Enabled, downward movements with the mouse with see you looking upward, and vice versa. Disabled, the opposite occurs.

Invert Vertical Fly: Enabled, while in air vehicles, downward movements with the mouse with see you looking upward, and vice versa. Disabled, the opposite occurs.

Draw HUD: Disabling this option will completely the remove the HUD (heads-up display) – ideal for “clean” screenshots and machinima videos.

Reduce Input Lag: This option assists in minimizing the amount of mouse lag you experience.

Centralized HUD Mode: If you play on an NVIDIA Surround setup, this option will force the HUD into the middle monitor for ideal gameplay.

Friend Logging Notifications: Disable this to remove notices that appear when your friends log on or off.

Fixed Minimap: Prevents the map from rotating when you move in different directions.

Filter Profanity: Turn this setting on to automatically censor any potentially offensive or vulgar words from the in-game chat.

Graphics Settings

Planetside 2 houses quite a number of different graphics-related options, many of which can have a substantial impact on performance and visuals. To access them, click the Settings button when you first launch the game (hit Esc first if you're actually in-game), then click the Graphics submenu. On the following page, we'll examine how each of these settings alters both performance and visuals.

Note for each of the performance tests, we use the maximum possible settings as a “baseline” (including Vsync off, Fog Shadows On, and Motion Blur On), and from this we alter a single setting per test to judge its effects on performance and visuals.

Full System Configuration

  • GeForce GTX 660 Ti 2GB
  • Intel Core i7 3960X (3.3GHz)
  • 8GB RAM
  • Win7 64-bit
  • NVIDIA 310.54 WHQL Drivers

Resolution & Display Mode

Resolution: This setting determines the amount of pixels seen in the game image, as measured horizontally and vertically (eg. 1920 x 1080) – the higher the resolution, the more detailed and crisp the image will be. Note the options available are determined by what your graphics card and monitor allow. Generally speaking, you should pick the maximum resolution available (also known as your native resolution). If for some reason you choose not to, it's recommended to use Windowed or Windowed (Fullscreen) mode in combination with your selection, or choose 'No scaling' under the 'Adjust desktop size and position' section of NVIDIA Control Panel.

An example of the performance impact made by changing this setting is seen below.

The graph shows altering Resolution provokes a consistently substantial and proportionate hit to performance. Lowering this setting should be a last resort, however.

Display Mode: This affects what behavior the game window takes on. If Fullscreen is used, the game image takes up the entire screen and focus of the OS, which generally provides best performance; if Windowed is used, how much of the screen is taken up is determined by the resolution selected, and if Windowed (Fullscreen) is used, the behavior of Windowed mode will be observed, but with the appearance of Fullscreen – ideal for multitasking.

Rendering Quality & Brightness

Rendering Quality: Affects the quality at which the game image is sampled (sampling is the process of 'samples' being taken, calculated, and rendered at a given resolution by the game engine in order to produce anti-aliasing and an image of a given quality). At 100%, the native resolution is used in rendering, and at values below 100%, respectively lower resolutions are used; higher values produce a higher quality, crisp image, and lower values produce a progressively lower quality image that can become very blurry and grainy. Note values beyond 100% can be set for increased quality (referred to as “supersampling”) – see the Advanced Tweaking section for details. An exact value of 50% is required for some older cards in order to run the UI properly.


Click here for an interactive comparison showing Rendering Quality 50 vs. Rendering Quality 100.

As you can see, this setting is critical to visual fidelity. To illustrate further, see our comparison below between the image with 100% Rendering Quality on the Low preset and the image with 50% Rendering Quality on the High preset. While the former lacks richness, it more than compensates with a high quality, crisp image resolution; the latter is rich, but its richness is mostly hidden beneath the poor quality, low resolution, and overall inferior image.


Click here for an interactive comparison showing Rendering Quality 100 on Low preset vs. Rendering Quality 50 on High preset.

The graph shows Rendering Quality has a significant impact on performance, particularly when going from 75% to 100%, and on higher resolutions going from any one setting to another. Interestingly, while the performance contrast between 50% and 75% is often smaller than that between 75% and 100%, the visual contrast is much greater in the former. If at all possible, keep this setting at maximum, but if you must reduce it, doing so to around 75% should provide a nice tradeoff between graphics quality and framerate.

Brightness: Adjust this setting to choose a level of brightness appropriate for your monitor and its settings, and your own preferences.

Vertical FOV & GPU PhysX

Vertical Field of View: This decides how much of the world you can see at any given time by increasing the width and height of the game image. Since the Vertical method is utilized, Horizontal Field of View is adjusted appropriate to the selected aspect ratio. Because of implementations of this setting vary across different games, it's not advisable to simply use one value across all, but rather experiment to find what you're most comfortable with per game. Increasing Field of View may introduce a mild impact to framerate.


Click here for an interactive comparison showing FOV 55 vs. FOV 74.

GPU PhysX: This setting enables or disables NVIDIA's proprietary PhysX technology, which enhances Planetside 2 with realistic particle effects, many of which are not in the game at all by default.


Click here for an interactive comparison showing PhysX Off vs. PhysX On.

Many game elements are affected, from vehicular explosions to bullets and more; in the screens above you can see how the force fields found in your base are affected, and in the video, you can see many other elements benefiting from it.

The graph shows PhysX is a high impact setting in Planetside 2, though playable framerates are still quite achievable if you like the effect and have a high-end GPU (or two).

Vertical Sync & Graphics Quality

Vertical Sync: Enabling this will lock your framerate to your refresh rate (usually 60), preventing “screen tearing” (which sees parts of the game image sometimes appear out of alignment). If you're not sensitive to tearing or don't notice it much in Planetside 2, it's strongly recommended to leave this disabled. Another viable option is to enable Adaptive Vsync to get the best of both worlds (maximizing performance while reducing tearing). Note disabling VSync can result in undesirable framerate fluctuations, and Adaptive VSync may preserve the mouse lag VSync is known to introduce.

Graphics Quality: An all-encompassing setting, each level of Graphics Quality affects numerous others, including Fog Shadows, Screen Space Ambient Occlusion, GPU PhysX, and Motion Blur. Notably, some are exclusive to the Graphics Quality setting, including Definition Rendering (Low and High), Bloom, post-processing, shaders, and BRDF (which defines light reflection behavior).


Click here for an interactive comparison showing Graphics Quality Low vs. Graphics Quality High.

In practice, there is a drastic difference between the Low and Medium settings, with Low offering an extremely bare bones presentation and lacking any significant depth or realism, and Medium offering a major jump in texture quality, lighting quality, depth of shadows, and plenty more. Moving to High, the differences are more subtle, but definitely appreciable, with more refined textures and significantly added depth to be found in lighting and shadows.

An example of the performance impact made by changing this setting is seen below.

Once again, benchmark results are surprising: the performance difference between Low and Medium is minor for the visual quality gained, though shifting from Medium to High shows about a massive drop across the board. Keep this setting on at least Medium, unless you're extremely starved for frames.

Texture Quality & Lighting Quality

Texture Quality: Changing this setting affects how crisp textures appear. In the screens below, you can see Low provides extremely blurry textures (particularly on objects), with only a somewhat significant improvement going to Medium; moving to High, most textures are crisp and clear, and on Ultra, even more textures are crisp and clear."


Click here for an interactive comparison showing Texture Quality Low vs. Texture Quality High.


Click here for an interactive comparison showing Texture Quality High vs. Texture Quality Ultra.

An example of the performance impact made by changing this setting is seen below.


Though not shown here, the Ultra option added in patch GU09 makes little difference to framerates, and is therefore recommended for all systems with sufficient Video RAM.

The graph shows Texture Quality has a very minor impact on performance, especially at more extreme resolutions. Assuming you have adequate RAM and reasonably new hardware in general, you should be safe to keep this setting on High. Otherwise, lowering it will help performance.

Lighting Quality: This determines the depth and quality of lighting in a given scene. A sometimes overlooked and underestimated feature, lighting often has some of the most impact out of all available graphics options. This is not the case in Planetside 2, however. As you can in the screens below, there is no change between Low and Medium, and a reasonable but not major contrast between Medium and High. In the case of the latter, increased depth and coverage of lighting can be observed.


Click here for an interactive comparison showing Lighting Low vs. Lighting High.

An example of the performance impact made by changing this setting is seen below.

Results show Lighting Quality brings a small hit to framerate. If you can spare a couple frames, keep this setting at High.

Shadow Quality & Fog Shadows

Shadow Quality: Affects the fidelity of shadows, and also at what distances they are used (higher settings will see shadows used at short and longer distances). The Low setting utilizes “blob” shadows (“blobs” which provide basic, low impact shadows), whereas Medium and High utilize sharper and more accurate “real” shadows, and are said to operate at medium and long distances, respectively. In actuality, long distance shadows appear to have little or no presence, though the difference at medium distances is obvious. The "Off" setting disables shadows entirely. Shadows work both the CPU and GPU.


Click here for an interactive comparison showing Shadows Low vs. Shadows High.

An example of the performance impact made by changing this setting is seen below.

As is typical, shadows show a major impact on performance in almost all of our testing, particularly between the Medium and High settings. While High offers increased sharpness, accuracy, and distance in shadowing, the overall contrast isn't massive by any means, especially during actual gameplay. As such, if you're looking to save on frames, dropping to Medium here is advisable, and to Low as a last resort.

Fog Shadows: Accentuating the Shadow Quality setting, this will show shadows even through any fog present on the map. Even if fog is extremely subtle, shadows will be applied, enriching just about any scene significantly.


Click here for an interactive comparison showing Fog Shadows Off vs Fog Shadows On.

An example of the performance impact made by changing this setting is seen below.

Results prove this setting is more demanding than most. While it does quite a bit to immerse you in the universe, it should be considered a luxury. If you need the extra performance, this is definitely one to consider disabling.

Effects Quality & Terrain Quality

Effects Quality: Said to alter the look of various effects, including explosions. If you spend a lot of time blowing things up, this should be of interest to you. Though explosions can be difficult to compare in screenshots, there does appear to be no actual change in the look of them here.


Click here for an interactive comparison showing Shadows Low vs. Shadows High.

An example of the performance impact made by changing this setting is seen below.

In line with our visual comparisons, no performance difference is noted in changing this setting. This will differ if your GPU is not well-equipped to handle large amounts of overlapping pixels, however, so try lowering it if need be. If no change is observed, keep it at High.

Terrain Quality: Said to alter the quality of land and ground, this setting actually has little to no effect at any distance.


Click here for an interactive comparison showing Terrain Quality Low vs. Terrain Quality High.

An example of the performance impact made by changing this setting is seen below.

In keeping with the lack of visual change, no performance change is observed here. Keep this setting at High.

Flora Quality & Model Quality

Flora Quality: Intended to determine the quality of flowers, bushes, and the like and the distance at which they appear, the only noticeable change comes when you set this to Low or Off, in which case flora is disabled entirely.


Click here for an interactive comparison showing Flora Quality Low vs. Flora Quality High.

An example of the performance impact made by changing this setting is seen below.

Corresponding to our visual comparison, the only notable performance contrast is seen between the Low and Medium settings. A barely discernible drop is consistent between the Medium and High settings. Keep this setting at High, unless you're desperate for a performance increase or prefer no flora, in which case switch to Low.

Model Quality: Intended to decide the quality of models and the distance at which they switch to lower detail models. Like the previous settings, this has no definitive impact on visuals, as can be seen in the screens below. In our testing, no difference could be seen in what different models switched at among the different settings, though you may see some if using low speed RAM (this also applies to the Maximum Voice Channels setting under 'Audio'), and/or an older system.


Click here for an interactive comparison showing Model Quality Low vs. Model Quality High.

An example of the performance impact made by changing this setting is seen below.

In line with visual testing, the benchmark shows Model Quality has no hit to framerate. Keep this setting at High unless you're using low speed RAM.

Particles & Motion Blur

Particles: Determines fidelity and quantity of particles (eg. debris from explosions) at long distances. This setting is difficult to compare in screenshots, and in our testing, no definitive contrast could be noted, however in practice, you may notice varying quality and quantity of particles, depending on your setting. To introduce a noticeable difference and various enhanced particle effects, use this setting in combination with GPU Physics (described in detail previously).

An example of the performance impact made by changing this setting is seen below.

The graph shows the Particles setting has a major effect on framerate when switching from Low to Medium, but is subtle from Medium to High. If you need a boost to performance, changing this setting to Low should come with a relatively small tradeoff, and prove rewarding, especially if your GPU is not well-equipped to handle large amounts of overlapping pixels.

Motion Blur: Blurs vision and simulates lower framerate when turning quickly for a cinematic touch. Difficult to capture accurately in screenshots, the effect in Planetside 2 is much more subtle than it appears here and in most games.


Click here for an interactive comparison showing Motion Blur Off vs. Motion Blur On.

An example of the performance impact made by changing this setting is seen below.

Performance testing reveals this setting has a somewhat significant impact on performance. Because the effect is subtle, this setting can be disabled with no worry if needed and/or preferred.

Ambient Occlusion & Overall Quality

Ambient Occlusion: Simulates true to life shadowing for increased depth in a given scene. As you can see from the screenshots below, AO in Planetside 2 enriches the world a great deal, with wide coverage on all aspects of the environment (this is less pronounced in outdoor environments, but still significant).


Click here for an interactive comparison showing Ambient Occlusion Off vs. Ambient Occlusion On.

An example of the performance impact made by changing this setting is seen below.

As ever, the hit to framerate from AO is somewhat hard, particularly at lower resolutions. If you can afford it, it comes strongly recommended, but if you must do without for the sake of extra performance, this is one of the first settings you should look to.

Overall Quality: This developer preset option changes all settings simultaneously, offering an easy baseline for your system as you start testing. The screenshots below display a very plain world when this is set to Low, increased quality of shaders and more accurate shadows among other items when set to Medium, all the benefits of Medium plus an extreme clarity in textures and depth in lighting and shadows among other items when set to High, and all the benefits of High plus higher resolution textures when set to Ultra.

This setting should really only be used by novice users or as a starting point for tweaking to find the optimal balance between visuals and performance.

CPU & Solid State Cache Performance

CPU optimization in Planetside 2 is currently a work in progress, so users craving higher framerates even after tweaking should sit tight while SOE works on it (some work has been done already, but more is expected). Note all cores are not supposed to be at 100% at all times, by any means – some overhead (about 30%) is ideal, partly to account for the unpredictability prominent in multiplayer shooters.

An option to consider in the meantime is “unparking” your cores. As of Windows 7, the OS will “park” one or more cores of a multi-core processor at low load, so as to reduce power consumption and thermal emissions. In most cases, this works well and does not interfere with gaming. However, there are cases – particularly with certain CPUs – where performance as a whole suffers.

To test the potential benefits for Planetside 2 and your CPU, first ensure you have parked cores by booting Planetside 2, accessing Resource Monitor via Windows Search, clicking the CPU tab, then looking for a blue line in any of the graphs on the right – this and the 'Maximum Frequency' number to the left of it indicate the cap placed on your CPU frequency. If you see any, you can download the minimalist CPU Core Parking Utility application to quickly enable and disable parking on all cores or individual cores (do so only after exiting Planetside 2). Be warned this requires registry changes, however, so do so at your own risk, and backup the registry before making any changes (type 'regedit' in Windows search, click 'regedit.exe', then click File > Export).

Planetside 2 can also benefit greatly from a Solid State Cache (SSC). While straight-up Solid State Drives (SSDs) are the dominant hardware of choice for those looking to improve load times and/or OS performance, an SSC provides similar benefits at much less cost ($90 on the high end). And because it functions like a buffer to your current hard drive (frequently used data is kept on the SSC to maximize performance), you don't have to worry about nearing the low storage limits imposed by SSDs. In our testing with the Crucial Adrenaline SSC, Planetside 2 continent loading dropped from 45 seconds to 10 seconds. While impressive in itself, the benefit becomes even clearer when you consider how often you load continents or maps in multiplayer shooters.

The catches: performance on infrequently used data will be lower than what you'd see with an SSD, and online software activation is mandatory (activation keys are limited, also, and while they can be released when needed after hardware changes, this can be a hassle). As for hardware requirements, you'll need Windows Vista or Windows 7 for Intel Smart Response Technology (SRT)-powered solutions, and Windows 7 for Dataplex-powered solutions (note Dataplex is currently being developed for Windows 8). As well, NVIDIA chipset motherboards are not supported, and HD storage limits may be imposed (in the case of Adrenaline, nothing beyond 2TB with work with it).

The SRT route is supported only by Z68 and Z77 chipsets – if you go this way, you'll need to configure SATA Mode in your BIOS so it's set to RAID, install the OS and Intel Rapid Storage Technology on the HDD, then run the SRT software via the All Programs menu. If you go with any Dataplex-enabled SSD (which works on any recent motherboard, excluding NVIDIA chipset motherboards), setup is a little simpler: attach the SSC to a SATA port, boot the PC, and follow the software wizard.

Advanced Tweaking

Planetside 2 offers extensive options for advanced users looking to squeeze even more juice of the game, or just tweak even more to their liking. To start, access C:\Program Files (x86)\Planetside 2 (or C:\Program Files (x86)\Steam\steamapps\common\PlanetSide 2 if you're using the Steam version), and open Useroptions.ini with Notepad. Note while editing this file is perfectly safe, enabling client modifications like SweetFX will get you banned, as they are “indistinguishable from hacks" to SOE, so it's strongly recommended you do not use them.

From useroptions.ini, you can adjust different values to induce various changes in-game. As always, make a backup copy of this file before making any changes, and make any changes before launching the game, after which point save and exit the file, then right click it, click Properties, and set it to Read-only to prevent the game from reverting your changes.

Below are the notable settings many players will find use for, accompanied by explanations and recommendations. Note various graphics-related settings not listed below were tested (including the fabled “Ultra” settings), with no effects found.

[Display]

RenderQuality=1.000000 Increase this beyond the default value to enable supersampling, which renders the game image multiple times to reduce aliasing and increase image quality (moreso the latter in the case of Planetside 2). Replace the default value here with the square root of the level of supersampling you want (eg. 1.41 for 2x supersampling, 1.73 for 3x supersampling, etc).


Click here for an interactive comparison showing RenderQuality=1.00 vs. RenderQuality=1.73.

As you might expect, this setting is very expensive on the GPU and RAM. If you have the power to spare and/or are looking to increase your GPU and/or RAM usage, this setting is recommended.

RenderDistance=999999.000000 Controls maximum draw distance (how far out you can see objects in the distance before they're 'drawn in' as you move toward them).

Numbers above the default value do not affect visuals; numbers lower than the default value can majorly improve performance, but may cause certain objects and portions of the landscape to not appear when they should. For most, 2000 or 3000 should be the ideal amount, offering a welcome performance boost at minimal cost to visuals.


Click here for an interactive comparison showing RenderDistance=500 vs. RenderDistance=999999.

MaximumFPS=250< If you want to cap your framerate for a more consistent experience and/or to prevent any possibility of your GPU overworking itself, set this to your desired value (above 120 is not recommended).

OverallQuality=-1 Setting this to 4 will enable the “Ultra” preset, which includes the fourth Texture Quality setting, and puts all other settings at their normal maximum.

[General]

MouseSensitivity=0.420000 Adjust this setting if you need a very specific mouse sensitivity your gaming mouse software, Windows, and the in-game option can't satisfy. Higher values provide increased sensitivity, and lower values provide decreased sensitivity.

Conclusion

Planetside 2 offers something unique for the shooter scene: a sci-fi setting with massive battles between hundreds of players, and plenty of support for teamplay; coupled with the quality gameplay comes heaps of graphics options and files to fiddle with for the enthusiast.

On the performance front, SOE has made significant progress since launch, with about a 15fps average increase observed on our test setup – no doubt this is largely due to work on the developer end. If you're still not experiencing ideal performance or simply welcome even smoother gameplay, SOE engineers have noted about six months worth of optimizations are planned at the moment.

As for tweaking, the options you should pay most attention to for performance boosts are Graphics Quality, Shadow Quality, Fog Shadows, Particles, Ambient Occlusion, GPU PhysX, and Render Distance. A variety of other tweaks are available which may help those on older hardware, as well. As a last resort, Resolution and Rendering Quality can be lowered for a major performance boost, but only with a huge blow to visual fidelity. For a visual boost with little or no performance hit, be sure to enable the advanced Texture Quality tweak.

If you're experiencing any problems with Planetside 2 and need help beyond what's covered in this guide, visit the Official Planetside 2 Forums. If lag is the issue, read up on it with our How to Get Rid of Lag guide for efficient troubleshooting.

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