Journey

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Popcorn
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Journey

Post by Popcorn »

Soon after I arrived in Tokyo I befriended a waitress named Yuki. I'd been to her cafe a few times before, so Yuki had had the chance to scope me out from a distance - in telling this story later she mimed a pair of binoculars - and she deduced that I was probably not a threat. I was working on my laptop and she was going round the shop polishing tables and straightening cutlery, looking a bit bored, when she came cover to me and said: "Do... you... speak Japanese... language?" I didn't then, and my situation now is not much improved. But she wanted to practice what little English she knew, and so we became friends.

The thing is, I have no idea what Yuki is really like as a person. I know she likes Harry Potter and hats and bad Ghibli soundtrack remix albums, and collects ET merchandise, but beyond that she is a mystery to me. She might be a vegetarian. She might be afraid of televisions. She might be a super-genius, or pitifully dim. She might be adopted. She might mock the disabled. She might donate to charity. She might have a criminal record. She might be gay. She might be a kawaii neo-Nazi. She might talk with a funny accent or lisp or speech impediment that earns her the mockery of her colleagues. I have no way of discerning these possibilities. Once I asked her what her favourite animal was and she said "Sailor Moon." Our relationship functioned on the basis that we had no way to talk to each other and therefore had a lot to talk about. We were unified by our impassable language barrier. We spent hours teaching other words or cracking up over unsalvageable communication breakdowns. ("Communication breakdown" is a phrase she continues to say at the earliest hint of misunderstanding.) We had an uncomplicated friendship based on gestures and context. I miss her a lot.

Image

OK, so there's this game called Journey...

I don't care much about spoilers. I don't get why people are so precious about them when without context they are mostly meaningless. I will go out of my way to avoid big twists - things the creators would ideally prefer me not to know - but read up on basic stuff like mechanics and premises and characters without caring. If something major is spoiled for me, I rarely find it significantly impacts my interpretation or enjoyment of the work. But if you haven't played Journey yet, don't read anything below this paragraph. The whole game is built so much on the idea of discovery it really is best to know as little as possible. I knew very little more than that it looked really pretty, it came out yesterday on PSN and that several people who know my obstinate asshole tastes went out of their way to tell me to play it. This is one case where I think if I'd known anything more - even something as basic as the gameplay premise - it would have significantly damaged my experience. In my opinion, there are only three things worth knowing to the new player: 1) It's best to play it as soon as possible so you have a greater chance of playing it with people who haven't played it before; 2) You can control the camera with the R-stick as normal, which the tutorial doesn't teach you for some reason; and 3) It's the best thing I've played in years, and it reminded me why I shouldn't hate video games, as much as the industry conspires to incite me to do so.

If you must know at least the basics: Journey is the new game from thatgamecompany, who made Flow which I didn't play and Flower which I found boring and fiddly. Journey's like those games in that it's beautiful and minimalist and 'arty', but different in that it's third-person with avatars and an implied narrative and therefore more my cup of tea. (It's possible, I think, to trace this breed of minimalist arty platform things back to Ico, maybe the first game to make 'design by subtraction' a conscious aesthetic choice rather than a response to tech limitation.) Despite what the open desert environments suggest, it's very linear; I was worried it was going to be one of those 'playground' games where you have to make your own fun - I have never been convinced by this sort of thing - but you're guided by a subtle hand throughout. There are no puzzles, only very simple find-the-thing-and-go-somewhere-else tasks. The platforming element is basic to say the least. You can't die and there's nothing to fight or kill. But it isn't a totally relaxed experience, and there are times of high tension and drama. In fact, I don't know if I've played a game that's wrung me through such emotional highs and lows.

Obviously it's beautiful. I love the spindly-legged grace of the player characters, the sense of scale, the way sand sweeps and shimmers, and the gradual shifts between colour palettes. The graphical tech is simple compared to the pyrotechnics of Uncharted's photorealistic setpieces, or the tears of David Cage's latest weeping tech demo whore, but Journey looks infinitely better than both of those games for the strength of its art direction that emphasises abstracted style over realism. You can't animate these robed figures 'wrong'. Their sense of movement is extraordinary. Your first experience is to trudge slowly up sand dunes, but with their speed and fluidity and rapturous sensation of flight, later sequences reminded me, of all things, of classic Sonic Team, or Panzer Dragoon.

So, OK, the really big deal is that you don't make this journey alone. This is an absolutely fascinating and unusual take on multiplayer gaming, and the bit that moved me the most. On your journey you just bump into other little robed figures controlled by other people whom aren't identified until after you finish the game. Never more than one person at a time, so as to better enforce that essential feeling of mutual dependency and kinship. You can't chat on keyboard or microphone, and there are no taunt or gesture animations; in fact, you can't communicate in any way other than to press the 'sing' button, which has the dual purpose of, well, singing, and recharging each others' jump bars (represented, of course, by your scarves). You never have to do anything complicated, so this inability to communicate is never frustrating. Instead, it's liberating. Journey has undone two decades of ugly online multiplayer culture. No names or tags, no emoticons, no scores, no ranks, no competition, no clans, no trading, no show-offs, no griefers, no spammers, no racism, no misogyny, no Xbox Live trash talk, no n00bs - the very concept makes no sense in a game like Journey. Instead it's a game that seems to bring out the best in people. I know that sounds nuts but it's true and real. This is the most powerful online multiplayer experience I've had since the day PSO's servers opened.

It's amazing how many meanings that 'sing' button encompasses. Just as the early stages emphasise discovery and excitement, your every button press comes to mean "cool!", or "hey, look at this!" by virtue of the context. As the mood slowly darkens, they come to mean "shit! run!", "stay with me!" or just tiny, comforting sounds. When I became separated from my partner about halfway through, I experienced genuine distress and waited around for ages looking for them. If you accept that the coming and going of companions is part of the design of the game - rather than interface inconveniences, like trying to get enough people together for some Halo - then moments like this emerge organically as 'real' game content. It is impossible not to feel elation whenever you spot a stranger in the distance after a lonely patch, or distress when you are separated. In the penultimate chapter, my companion was knocked back by a dragon; I immediately leapt after them, losing some progress as a result. There is little mechanical incentive to stay with others and this grand act of self-sacrifice was driven by my need to stay with them and my empathy with their virtual suffering. When, a little while later, we became separated in the race to the mountaintop, I found my companion waiting for me. If I were a lesser man I would have shed a tear.

The game's good, OK! Any of you other cats played it yet?

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Re: Journey

Post by j-man »

Fuck Journey, man. I just wanna hear more about Yuki.

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Re: Journey

Post by Luckett X »

Jenova Chen, the main guy behind thatgamecompany has frequently expressed his love of Ico and their design philosophy, and it shows. However, I'd say some of the stuff in Journey goes beyond even their visionary take on videogames (like actually releasing one this generation HEEEE HAWWWWWW), using base interaction even more interesting ways and making that core to the experience than Ico or SotC ever did.

The majority of videogames these days are an amalgam of movies with playable segments, their stories expressed through speech, cutscenes, traditional ways we've absorbed storytelling since the dawn of moving images really and then theres the ol' Shenmue shenanigans of pressing a button at a specific time to make you feel immersed (incidentally the abject counterpoint to Journey is probably the recently released Asura's Wrath, good lord). On the other side, as James suggests, the industry has also found love for the term 'emergent gameplay', which is something of a polite way of saying find your own fun, often in a sandbox game. More often than not thats happy accident stuff rather than ingenious design. 'It feels really cool to jump on cars before you throw them electromagnetically!!'.

Thats where Journey differs completely, but certainly makes the term emergent its own among its peers. There are moments, despite how basic mechanically they may seem, that I can describe only as game design genius. Its not faggy or whatever to say the game's core mechanics genuinely inspire companionship with whoever you meet along the way, because everything has been finely crafted to evoke that. The first time you ever have an inkling of there being other people in this game world, its merely a shadow at the end of a corridor, before it jumps down and out of sight. Already you're primed for wanting to share this journey with someone instinctively, a far cry from game manuals, text tutorials on screen and the many lazy ways games approach themselves these days.

Segments later in the game reward close proximity for a simple reason I'll choose not to spoil, but it is probably the single most effective game design decision that actually makes you feel something in relation to a game since that goddam bridge sequence in Ico. Its one of the boldest steps forward in genuine interactive storytelling that only games as a medium can deliver. And hopefully more people will play it and enjoy that rather than a predictable 'its cool to hate this much loved thing' backlash I am nervously expecting any day now (already seen one crusader call it all pretentious due to reading an entire GAF topic of peoples experiences before playing it themselves, so NB: DO NOT DO THIS.

Optimism cleanser: thatgamecompany is going their separate way from the inner bosom of Sony Santa Monica (mostly all the pretty side of Journey and Flower most likely spawned from the tech wizards in that camp) to chase a bigger audience, supposedly a multiplatform one. So I expect Journey to be the last thing on the same level of presentation, scope, and flawlessness they produce again unless that union is re-achieved.

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Re: Journey

Post by Crisis »

It sounds really cool. I've been fascinated by online multiplayer from when I first played an MMO, and I'm guessing Popcorn had a similar experience, although in my case it was World of Warcraft rather than PSO. (I played in a roleplaying guild which was strictly in-character at all times, which made the gameplay experience challenging and surprising and incredibly dynamic - a total anathema to the sterile, boring, repetitive grind that the game has been reduced to today.)

I see games as being ultimately all about narrative. The way that game developers have fumbled online gameplay so badly and so consistently is particularly frustrating because it's holding the medium back. Movies, for instance, have to rely on clumsily conveying emotions through scripted actors; but games have the potential to make the player's emotions generate from within, and that's an incredibly addictive experience. It's a whole other layer of empathy and obviously the direction that games should have jumped on board a long time ago.

Unfortunately, most developers choose to focus on single player genres, where it's difficult to convey emotions beyond loneliness and isolation without resorting to a movie-like narrative. And games will never be the best place for those.

But add a second player and the experience suddenly becomes massively more interesting. At GDC Valve did a post-mortem on Portal 2 and there's a part where they're describing play tester engagement in single player as opposed to co-op. It's very obvious from the description that the mere knowledge of a fellow human being activated some part of the play tester's brain and opened up a whole new level of player engagement. It introduces so many elements of the narrative - pride, shame, anger, co-operation, betrayal, humour - all at once, and the player has no choice but to engage with them, because suddenly they've been thrust into their own parallel narrative. It's not about having to infer how a character feels from dialogue or an actor's portrayal, you know how they feel because your experience is tied so closely to them.

It's different from meeting people in real life, as well. In real life, there are all sorts of barriers to creating meaningful relationships. In the context of a game, everybody just has to agree to some basic rules, and suddenly the barriers to forming meaningful relationships come crumbling down. Indeed, traditionally games have always been used for exactly this reason.

God damn, I want to buy a PS3 now. Unfortuantely it would mean having to also buy a TV, which isn't really in the budget.

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Re: Journey

Post by Green Gibbon! »

This whole thread is lurching uncomfortably with the kind of empty arthouse lingo I've been avoiding since college - "emergent gameplay"? Seriously? Maybe that's hard to get away from when discussing a game from a company who has blush-inducing schtick like "artistically-crafted" and "meaningful, enriching experiences that touch and inspire" on their goddamn website.

BUT having that said, Flower is still one of my favorite games on the system and I've been wanting to play Journey, except that the last time I checked, it was still Plus-exclusive. Has it been released to the plebeian masses yet?

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Re: Journey

Post by Popcorn »

Well, I have no idea what "Plus" even is, so I assume so, yes.

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Re: Journey

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PlayStation Plus is that subscription thing where you can pay to get things for free.

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Re: Journey

Post by Green Gibbon! »

I just finished it myself.

If it weren't for the fact that it's so short and can never really be enjoyed as much as the first time through, I'd say this is the best game any of us would be likely to play this decade. As it is, it's still going to be the best thing of any of us play this year. I think the game would've been excellent even as a single-player experience, but the anonymous partner thing adds a whole other dimension and I'm not too sure why it works so well. As Duffy mentioned, there's no special mechanical incentives to work as a team, but you naturally buddy up with your random partner, even though (or perhaps because) you never know who they are (until it's over). I almost wonder if the magic buddy connection was a deliberate design decision or a lucky accident. Either way, limiting communication to the song button was a masterstroke. It's the first time I've enjoyed any kind of multiplayer anything since... yeah, since PSO, I think.


For the best experience, my advice would be to play it all in one sitting (so make sure you eat before and don't have to bow out for a sandwich halfway through like me), and try to stick with one partner throughout. (Though there is a trophy to be earned from meeting multiple players.)

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Re: Journey

Post by Crisis »

I played it today.

It was pretty great. I only really have two complaints.

The first was somewhat unavoidable - simply that it was a PS3 exclusive when it would obviously benefit from being multiplatform. I'd like to think that's not just me being entitled. Journey is a game all about building a relationship and part of that process is inclusivity. A broader player base makes it more likely to get an appropriate partner, and that improves the experience for everyone. A PC port in particular would help preserve the game for future generations through user-created servers, although possibly that would come at the cost of some of TCG's control over the product. I gather they were under contract to produce games exclusively for Sony, but now that their contract is over and the company is a financial success, I hope they move on. I'm told that consoles are dying, anyway, not that I'm in much of a position to know. (Although if console and PC gaming are both dying, then what's left? Zynga?)

The second complaint is motion sickness. My parents can never play this game. I expect that most people over about 35 will be unable to play it. Again, I don't think it's an issue of entitlement (I had no motion sickness issues, personally), just something I noticed from observers. The whole point of Journey is that you don't know who your partner is, but I'm pretty sure that all of the partners I met were between the ages of 12 and 25, and probably male. That's not exactly a grand sample of humanity.

It's a problem that I don't feel qualified to offer a solution to. I have no idea how you would capture the same sense of motion without inducing sickness. But I think it really cripples the game's appeal for a lot of people.

-

I'm noticing a trend that all my favourite games come from small teams or indie productions. They're not exactly art games - I think my most played game of the year was The Binding of Isaac, which is an indie game about gunning down aborted foetuses using liquid bullets fired out of your face - but they do tend to leave a much better impression on me. I think maybe it's just easier to keep things tight and consistent when you have a smaller team. It's the only reason I can imagine why titans like Bethesda, BioWare, SEGA, and Blizzard routinely screw up the basics. I guess maybe the counter-example is Valve, but even then, Portal 2 was a big budget re-imagining of the first game and it felt considerably more bloated.

Ah well. I guess I should be embracing the thriving new independent gaming scene and not worrying about the inexorable decay of the big-budget stuff. Even if it does mean giving up my dream of a mainstream MMO managed by a company that's not composed of incompetents.

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Re: Journey

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I don't think that there's such a thing as an "appropriate" partner in Journey, and I think that was kind of the point of the game's design. You get a partner. (Or more than one, but only one at a time.) Whether you both work together or not is entirely between you and him/her. You can't choose your family or the random people you encounter in life, and many of them aren't going to be "appropriate" for you. I disagree that Journey is a game that is "all about building a relationship," - though that is one aspect of it - because it's perfectly possible that you might not meet any cooperative players in your entire game. That's why there are so many unique readings of the game. Nobody experiences it the same way.

I also don't really understand the complaint about platform exclusivity or hoping that TGC moves or whatever. People seem to forget that game development isn't cheap and Sony took a risk with a lot of money on an unknown group of creatives (with TGC specifically, as well as a lot of other small studios). That kind of willingness to seek out creator-driven works is why Sony is one of my favorite publishers now. The whole Kickstarter movement seems ready to supplant the old model of publisher-funded works, but that only really works for established teams and creators. It won't really work for unknowns. So I guess what I'm saying is that I'll be looking forward to TGC's future works with interest (they've made one outstanding game and a couple curios in my opinion), whatever publisher and platform they come from. However, I would also be perfectly fine if Sony just bought them outright.

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Re: Journey

Post by Crisis »

I should have clarified that by "appropriate", I just meant someone with a similar level of experience to you. Pair new players with other new players, and experienced players with other experienced players. I kind of assumed their matchmaking algorithms already worked along those lines, but I dunno. And while rejection or indifference from your partner are possible outcomes in Journey, they're clearly the least enjoyable.

I'm not criticising TCG themselves for choosing to go exclusive, but nothing in the world is free and their decision to be funded by Sony has shortened the game's life expectancy. I dunno if Kickstarter is going to solve this problem (frankly I doubt it - too many corporate interests are at stake), personally the only solution I see is for the console industry to die a slow death and be supplanted by some form of cloud-based gaming platform. On the other hand, releasing as a console exclusive is better than not shipping at all, so in that respect the Sony deal worked out pretty well.

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Re: Journey

Post by Green Gibbon! »

I think I actually ignored my first couple of partners because I didn't realize they were indeed people. The first one I saw I thought was a computer-controlled character showing me what to do.

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Re: Journey

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Crisis wrote:I should have clarified that by "appropriate", I just meant someone with a similar level of experience to you. Pair new players with other new players, and experienced players with other experienced players.
What, experienced at playing games in general, or just Journey? It's already been established that there are no experienced Journey players around because the game isn't actually good enough to play more than once, right?

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Re: Journey

Post by Radrappy »

Okay (intake of breath) I hated this game.

It's a total arty wank fest. This isn't a game; it's an interactive student film. The music is nice, and the graphics are phenomenal but the over all effect is pretentious beyond belief. That doesn't mean I hate arty games though as a rule. I fucking love shadow of the colossus and Nights. Hell I loved Limbo. But even those were goddamn games. I even liked flower more than this shit. And my god nothing is worse than reading how emotionally affected people were by Journey.

Of course, I'm probably just a grumpy grump.

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Re: Journey

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So just out of curiosity, what is your definition of a game?

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Re: Journey

Post by Radrappy »

I knew you would ask.

I will say that a game(by my definition mind you) needs penalties. Without penalties there are no stakes, risks, or tension. In Journey there are obstacles, but they're scripted. Games are not strictly interactive media, there's more to them than that. But let's not argue over personal semantics. Let's instead talk about why Journey is lame.

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Re: Journey

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Radrappy wrote:I eat hamster turds.

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Re: Journey

Post by Crisis »

I thought the stakes were your ability to fly. I constantly wanted to fly further, which was the motivation to go out of your way to find the hidden glyphs that give you a longer scarf. That's also what made it so frustrating to lose your scarf to the monsters. Plus, losing your scarf makes it harder to avoid the monsters, i.e. you're more likely to get caught again, so each hit is progressively scarier. The game doesn't explain what happens when you lose your scarf, so I was genuinely scared that my character was going to die. (Actually all that happens is that you lose your ability to fly, until the scene on the mountain.) A player can also distract the monsters from their partner, at the cost of their own scarf, which is a nice touch.

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Re: Journey

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Yeah, see, Ico and Shadow of the Colossus would've succeeded as games entirely without the vapid moody minimalist contemporary art student kitsch. Ico sports some of the most sophisticated collision detection I've yet seen in a platformer, with the player being able to climb just about anything he can touch. SotC took that even further by adding these massive dynamic objects that react to the player in turn. Consolidating the platforming, puzzling and combat into these condensed challenges made for a much more exciting game overall, and they were smart enough to acknowledge that the horseback journey wasn't the game's main attraction by giving you the ability to jump straight into fights upon completing the game and rewarding you for performing well in them.

And here we have a game drawing these lofty comparisons that not only excludes the possibility of failure, but actually stands as a complete regression of the formula when you can only jump by collecting fucking jump vouchers. I think it's pretty telling that no one is discussing how fun this game is! Are there even any puzzles where the solution isn't immediately obvious? There isn't even anything to explore when the game is essentially on rails. If the game made you cry, that's great- I can understand why the online co-op here is striking a chord with people (despite this being a common feature for about a decade now, with other games having done it much, much better) when gamers, being the socially stunted manchildren we are, need complete silence and anonymity to appreciate any sort of interpersonal relationship. I understand that the game also dispenses adult diapers, and I think that's wonderful. But it really doesn't pay to structure your entire game around triggering a certain emotional response when that isn't something that can be done consistently. If I don't feel like playing a game more than once, it's a failure.

It'd also help if the game actually looked good, though. Stick figures, sand and cloth physics, monochromatic palettes. Note to all sensitive precious snowflake people: A game doesn't need to be empty to be compelling!

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Re: Journey

Post by j-man »

You are a miserable bastard.

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Re: Journey

Post by Ritz »

Just a bastard. I keep my spirits high by playing games that are good and not shitty.

Dear Esther is an amazing game, by the way. You should all pay money for it.

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Re: Journey

Post by j-man »

Dear Esther is pretentious, meandering and devoid of motivation. See, I can use $5 words too!

I know I'm just being argumentative now, but I'm baffled that you could ever consider Ico to be vapid, or SotC to be kitschy (seriously?). Also, you started it.
Last edited by j-man on Thu Apr 05, 2012 7:57 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Journey

Post by Crisis »

If the game made you cry, that's great- I can understand why the online co-op here is striking a chord with people (despite this being a common feature for about a decade now, with other games having done it much, much better)
An isometric Tomb Raider spin-off, played by what sounds like a pair of screeching male adolescents. Is this really the best you could find?

I liked the caves in Dear Esther (the new one). That's about all I remember.

There should be more games about caving.

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Re: Journey

Post by Ritz »

j-man wrote:I know I'm just being argumentative now, but I'm baffled that you could ever consider Ico to be vapid, or SotC to be kitschy (seriously?).
I don't really, they look good. Big, sparse n' moody done right. Maybe Journey starts looking better further in, but I've been instructed not to watch more than the first 10 minutes because that would ruin the experience. They're right, of course.
Crisis wrote:An isometric Tomb Raider spin-off
Is this supposed to be a criticism? It's a pretty awful one.

Also I'm sure you'll find that most people sound very unappealing when they're excited. It's just as well Journey doesn't have any sort of voice chat support, there wouldn't be anything to discuss or get excited about. Also, Crisis actually played Dear Esther. Both versions, apparently.

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Re: Journey

Post by Crisis »

Zing!

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