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Why We Should Never Go Back to 1-50.. or
Posted By: FyreWulff <>Date: 2/26/11 3:25 p.m.

The Death of the Halo Black Market

I've been meaning to write this post for a while, and now finally have the free time to put my thoughts down on The Arena. While I don't get to play it much due to my limited time.. my opinion is that it

1) Blows the previous style of ranking games in the Halo series out of the water.

2) Is low commitment, clear, and to the point.

and most importantly

3) Uttery destroys, kills, and then shits on the corpse of visible Trueskill and Halo 2's ranking system.

But you know me. I don't like to make drive-by posts and ctrl-c ctrl-v the same internet ragepost. I like to explain my position in detail. I'll provide some history, explanation, and reasoning for my opinion.

The Players

Our usual culprits in discussions about arena:

The Halo 2 ranks
Halo 2 did not use Trueskill. It used an ELO based linear rating system. It's strength was that since it was ELO and linear, Bungie could mangle the numbers into displaying as progress bars. Put enough work in, and you could inch your ELO rating upwards into the next boundary, indicated by 1-50 ranks. Of course, there were many downsides, some massive to this setup:

1) Instead of treating it as an indicator of your relative skill to get you into close games, people treated it like their World of Warcraft account, a level to grind and earn that they 'deserved', because everyone figured that if you put enough games in, you'd reach 50 as an eventuality, since they confused the bar-display of the ranks on as experience bars instead of a bounds indicator. I often heard people refer to a gamertag as "their 25" and that they were going to "get on their 32 tonight", like the gamertags were characters they created instead of themselves.

2) Ranks above 36-38 were basically not achievable by normal humans with jobs and a life. Both physically and mathematically. If anyone remembers BEFORE the big Halo 2 patch, 25 was a high rank. Bungie even had an interview on their front page with the "highest ranked Rumble Pit player", who was an 18. Now think about that. What was the point of having 50 distinct ranks if 25 of them went unused? This resulted in MASSIVE rank compression and less skilled players being forced to play much better skilled players because in this system, a 15 could be matched against a 25, which was basically the equivalent of a 20 being able to be matched against a 50 in a Halo 3 playlist set to 'strict skill level'.

3) The big patch didn't do much to alleviate this, as all it did was add about 10 ranks to the top end. The high 30s and 40-50 were basically only gotten by boosting and cheating. about 19 out of 20 games against someone with a moon or other graphical rank were modded games. The others were simply people who had boosted rank. You think dropping a single rank in Halo 3 was annoying from a single game? Try playing 50 games to move up from 43 to 44 in Halo 2, and then being dropped down to a 42.5 from a single loss, due to the math. Losing to anybody but someone of the same or higher rank was deadly.

4) In ELO, it's possible to lose rank for winning. It's happened in chess many times, and it even happened to me in Halo 2. I earned a 32-33 in the Ranked BTB playlist before the big wipe - I had about 700 games completed of BTB at that point. One night, we had an amazing run with a full party of 8 where people in the party went from 22 to 27-28. I was ranked down to 29-28 from WINNING because all the people that were left were no higher than rank 15-17. I thought it was hilarious myself, but someone hardcore about rank would have been livid. But this is a result of ELO - it is designed to punish someone for playing someone far below their rank, and to stay near people of their own rank. Of course, that is counter productive to

5) Halo 2's ranking system was also used in matchmaking, in both ranked and social (guests allowed) playlists. Since the rating system encouraged you to play people near their ranks, you'd end up with massive gaps of rank. Since there were massive gaps of rank, when people stopped playing the game it would result in epic search times. In a pure Trueskill system, the population's skill distribution looks like this for all playlists combined in optimal conditions:

In Halo 2's ELO, it was more like this:

Everyone was clumped together into little islands of skill. When population dropped due to competing games and the launch of the Xbox 360, this islands could disappear practically overnight, causing a chain reaction of people moving to other playlists or just not playing Halo 2 anymore due to search times.

The only way to fix this was, of course, to reset the ranks. While I personally didn't mind, people who had marched to a 50 somehow legitimately were screwed. They had to do this 3 times. Once for the Big Update, second time was in mid-2006 when they issued a big anti-cheat patch, and the last one was when the Blastacular Map Pack came out. The first one was sort of a given since the game had dramatically changed. The others were to simply to keep matchmaking working.

But now I'm starting to drift off my own topic, which was the Halo black market of boosting. In Halo 2, people dealt in Live gold time. If you had enough 2 months, you could get a guy to mod or standby/bridge you to wins. This cheating was RAMPANT. Not only did you have to deal with the endless amounts of players with the bomb or last flag going out of bounds, but snipers super bouncing to the top of maps, you had to deal with modders who would just make your team spawn in midair and squeeze out a game in a minute. Or the more clever ones that would bridge themselves host (another topic entirely) and then ban your IP from their router, kicking you out of the game. By the time Halo 2's 1.5 patch arrived that killed modding and bridging, it was too late. Most everyone was on Halo 3. To this day, nobody will ever have an idea of how Halo 2's multiplayer should have actually been, because 99% of it wasn't spent playing Halo, but rather a metagame of who knew more exploits such as BXR and superbouncing and cheats. Enter the sequel:

The Halo 3 Ranks, aka Trueskill

Halo 3 was the first Halo game to use Trueskill matchmaking. Every Xbox 360 game uses Trueskill for matchmaking, regardless of whether it is displayed or not. Gears, Call of Duty, Halo 3 and Reach, GTA4.. Trueskill. The only exceptions are MMOs that just use Live as a frontend, and EA games which are run on EA's servers.

Even from day 1, the visible TS ranking was a massive improvement over the Halo 2 system. Matchmaking search times stayed fast for much longer, didn't fall apart when population drops occured, and all 50 ranks were actually used, leading to less lopsided games after your TS had been determined. But it also inherited some issues from Halo 2 and Bungie's implementation:

1) Halo 3 does not use "pure" Trueskill. They futzed with the math a bit to slow the progression from 1-20 in order to convert it into a hill climbing experience like you were leveling up, and then the system would go from there. They tried to convert an algorithm not intended for RPG leveling up experiences and use it as one.

2) This once again didn't help stop the confusion that your TS rank is a tool to get you into close games and not an RPG level that you deserve to eventually reach 50 with.

3) People did not understand that all 50 meant is that you were highly likely to beat anyone of the other 49 ranks in a one versus one scenario. 50 did not equal a certain K/D ratio, win/loss record, or other tangible numbers - it's all relative to the rest of the userbase. If the highest skilled player in Halo 3 was as good as a Halo 3 15 is right now and everyone was "worse" than him, then he'd be a 50 and everyone else would follow suit.

This is especially true since it was used in multiple, separate playlists with different gametypes and setups. A 50 in Team Slayer didn't mean much in Team Objective, nor did a 50 Squad Battle mean anything for MLG, as all the playlists had separate TS (including social playlists, who just hid your TS level in them and turned off strict searching). But it also led to people 'earning' a 50 in a playlist and then never touching it again for fear of 'losing their 50', even though their service record was always going to permanently show them as a 50 in the lobby. This led to population bleedout at the higher ranks of most playlists.

Enter the tightly interwoven relationship between Military Rank and Trueskill Rank, and people were punished by the rest of the playerbase for not focusing on a single playlist and grinding out a rank. You may remember idiots mocking people for being "a gold bar" because "they don't get ___NEXTRANK____", even if the mocker only had a 50 in Lone Wolves and the Force Colonel had a 44 in every ranked playlist.

Due to this social pressure and enterprising modders and cheaters, the massive Halo 3 black market formed. In Halo 2, modders mostly cheated to be assholes. With the advent of MS point and Gold time cards that could be easily purchased, cheating became a capitalist system. The following services were available at the height of Halo 3:

- Boosting to 50 (Usually cost you ~1600MSP)
- Modding a screenshot (~800MSP)
- Modding a film for you to show you wearing Recon or having a flaming helmet (1600MSP)
- Modding a film so that the names of the other intentionally bad playing players were replaced with known MLG pros or high profile community members, so it looked like you "donged" on Bungie or an MLG pro team (1600-2100msp)

Of course, since the later ones eventually resulted in a file share ban, the 50 boosting market EXPLODED.

It was fairly simple, and anyone could do it - set everyone to a language that didn't have many players, combined with some network manipulation, and you could get a gamertag a 50 in about 30 games. Since all Trueskill looked for was who won a game and who lost, the boostee didn't even have to play the game - the system didn't care if they didn't kill anyone, they just cared that they were on the winning team. Even in non-boosting, this resulted in easily carrying people to a higher desired rank.

At the apex of the 50 boosting frenzy and center stage to it's activity was Mythic Brawl. People would go in with a new gamertag, boost or simply get a 50 fast, and then spam everyone they just played with an offer of 1600MSP for the account. I remember playing Mythic Brawl once and getting no less than 20 of these messages in one night. They'd openly advertise their modding or boosting services into their bio as well, which I always reported. But as soon as that account would be banned or have the bio text be replaced with CODE OF CONDUCT, they'd just make another account and do it again. They just had to put in an initial investment of 6$ for one month of gold, and sell the account for 20 to 50$ worth of MS Points or Gold time. It was a very lucrative business for all involved.

Players had no reason to stick to using one gamertag. People complained of being "rank locked", even after I pointed out that they were a 29 and couldn't get to 30 because they were only beating 24s and losing to 32s. Solution? Start a new gamertag and try to reach a higher rank before Bungie's modified Trueskill caught up to you and started putting you in games much closer to your skill level. It devalued the legitimately high ranked players, who always had an eye of suspicion put on them. The boosters were also often assholes and gave higher ranked players a reputation of being foul mouthed idiots who didn't help anyone.

Fans who continued to play and pay for DLC were punished by the community for playing social playlists and not increasing their TS so that they could keep moving up in military rank. Bungie did make an attempt to fix this with the TU2 of Halo 3, which added per-playlist military ranks that ignored your TS for that playlist. This made the military rank closer to the original intention, which was a marker of how long that player had been playing and not how good they were (that was the purpose of the 1-50 rank NEXT to the Military rank). For all intents and purposes, the ranking up in matchmaking for most people was now endless.

You now constantly got nice feedback for winning in the post game lobby of that shiny new white rank slamming into the screen. It made sticking to one account have more justification, but people still ran alts and still boosted because they thought they 'deserved' that 50 TS rank. Oh, and of course the EXP boosters that thought someone having 800,000 EXP was legitimate and yes, I totally believe that you got all that 50,000 EXP in Grifball without boosting, ever.

But you're probably going to ask me, "Hey, Fyrewulff. People boosting in a Grifball lobby doesn't hurt anyone! Why do you care?". And my answer is, EXP boosting didn't really hurt me, or anyone really. It was the people boosting to that shiny 50 rank and then going into Rumble Pit and bragging to others that they were a 50. The rampant host booting (Cheaters had now upgraded to controlling and charging for the use of botnets to saturate opponents internet connections with) made playing ranked unfun. Cruising through the SWAT ranks and getting stonewalled at 38 because I was repeatedly sent into black screen and disconnected and then losing rank from that left a bad taste in my mouth. It wasn't that I lost the game that made me mad, it was the way it went down.

I knew Bungie hadn't done it, but in the back of your head and in other people's mouths, you still blame them. The rampant black market reflected poorly on the game and it's community. Not only was the ranking system completely busted wide open and easily exploited, there were thousands of dollars being made off it's exploitation. Microsoft was spending thousands of dollars in call center time from people having their accounts stolen by the even less scrupulous boosters. This was a pure lose-lose for the community in general.

Halo Reach, The Arena, and cR system

Enter Reach's matchmaking, the Arena Rating, and the cR system. These 3 facets of the Reach experience have combined, and I am happy to report, into a total and utter killing off of the Halo black market as it stands today.

Of course, it also helps that Bungie implemented new security to even kill off non-matchmaking boosting. Offline screenshots, gametypes, films and map variants cannot be put in your fileshare, which prevents 99% of modding from being able to be uploaded to a file share. The market for modded films, screenshots and film clips died overnight.

Reach Matchmaking: Cutting the Ties That Bind

As hinted at by Shishka before release and as shown afterwards, Bungie completely unhooked the Military Rank from Skill. We finally have something that is more like the original intention of the Halo 3 Military Ranks: an indicator of how dedicated you are. Not an indicator of how good you are.

In addition to this, a player's cR is not displayed in-game to other players anywhere. This prevents cR from being treated like EXP so people are encouraged to spend and not hoard it. And we have the fact that you don't lose cR from quitting pulling up the rear to nip deranking in the bud. All continually quitting will do is earn you a matchmaking ban, but you'll keep your rank.

This is also important as the cR system is present everywhere in Reach. The Halo 2 and 3 systems punished the fans of Campaign - now it is theoretically possible to hit Inheritor without playing a single matchmaking game. In 3, you didn't get ANYTHING for playing Campaign. Heck, you even get credits for Forging - miniscule, but still a reward for doing it without having to constantly go into matchmaking. It meets the goal of being something that makes sense to show globally since it does not apply to a single mode or playlist.

Finally, you receive SOMETHING for participating in a game no matter what. While I like to think I am not a rank whore it was really irritating to spend 20 minutes of my day playing a single Neutral Bomb Valhalla game, having the bomb armed on us in the last 10 seconds, and having nothing to show for it. Teams were encouraged to let the game end in a tie so at least they'd leave with an EXP point or two to show for their time. In Reach, you are award for participation and recieve bonus points for doing impressive things like sprees, sticks, and so on. Even if you may have lost that Slayer game 50-32... you got 5 headshots, so you walk away with 6000cR for competing a commendation or challenge. Loss anxiety and the inclination to quit out has been greatly reduced. (Heck, Halo 2 quitting was rampant EVEN WHEN YOUR TEAM WAS WINNING).

Add in the armory. Now not only do you literally invest your time and money into yourself, it's represented visually to other players. Starting a second account means you have to endure that giant hump they call Warrant Officer again... you have no armor and cannot quickly boost to having Hayabusa again... encouraging people to not alt. This is a good thing. It is now much less attractive for a cheater or booster to boost accounts since they are now going to be making less than minimum wage per hour of work, and if they want to maintain the same income from the Halo 3 black market they would have to dramatically raise their prices.

Yep! Bungie made unaffordable to be in the black market anymore. And then we have the final nail in that glorious coffin:

The Arena Rating

You know what, I honestly thought making a ranking system pretty much unboostable was impossible. When the Arena Rating was originally announced? I thought it was going to be broken within a month. But there it is, still standing. Here's the various reasons why.

It is impossible to be carried to a high rating by boosting

Participation and only participation gets you a high rating for the game. If you just AFK and your team wins 50 games in a row, you're still going to end up in the lowest percentile of the lowest division.

Players are encouraged to defend and participate even after ranking

Due to the season rollover, you can't just get a 1700 Onyx by starting an alt and then park there for the next 3 years. Boosting an account to an Onyx somehow will only result in that account being Onyx for a limited time, which is not an attractive sale at all. And it'll be fairly obvious if someone is an Onyx one season and then never manages more than Bronze for the next 5 seasons.

The pure form of Trueskill is being used

Microsoft's research people like the brag about how good Trueskill is. It can figure out your skill level in as little as 8-10 games. Players don't have to invest hundreds of games into the system like Halo 2 before all their matches start being consistently fair. However, Trueskill is a harsh and blunt mistress and does not lie. Imagine playing 10 games of Halo 3. You go 1-17-26-35-42-30-29-34-35-36 due to your wins and losses because the game is using the pure form of TS. Not only is that wild roller coaster ride for most people.. it's too volatile to use as a basic for a leveling system.

A Bungie engineer described Halo 3's implementation of Trueskill as "pouring sand into a beautiful engine". And after Reach, I agree with him. And other developers agree with Bungie - less and less games are starting to not display the Trueskill number as a rank, but going to pure EXP based systems or some other form of rank. Epic even patched visible TS OUT of Gears 2 and replaced it with a purely EXP based system. TS is now fulfilling it's original intention of being a tool to get people into close fair games in the context of automated matchmaking.

Now that Trueskill is hidden, there's no need for the "ranked" versus "unranked" distinction that Halo 3 had between playlists. There is no point to boosting your Trueskill up because it is invisible. If you are somehow an idiot and do this anyway even though you cannot see the Trueskill, you will just end up being creamed by the much better players you are going up against. Instead of stalemates in SWAT or Objectives from people having rank loss anxiety, they JUST PLAY. And finally, FINALLY, there is no need to make a Ranked and Unranked version of the same playlist and therefore splitting the population of the fans of that gametype. Bungie can reset the Trueskill for playlists as much as they want and the system will put everyone back to their skill level within hours.

Closing Thoughts and Opinion

Not only would it monumentally stupid if Bungie ever went back to 1-50 or if 343 went back to 1-50.. it'd be opening up the black market again and capitulating to loud internet posters who look at the previous systems through rose colored glasses. I think Shishka or Ninja on Fire put it the right way once in the Optimatch forum: "People will always complain that the last way was better". After Halo 3 launch, people wanted the game to use H2's ranking. After Reach launched, people want H3's ranking again. It's deliciously predictable. No matter what Bungie does in their next IP or 343 does with Halo 5, people will say "why didn't you do it like Reach did exactly". Of course, we all hope and know that neither studio will be caught looking at what has already been done and improve things even more - building on the previous lesson and work but not leaning on it.

Don't get me wrong. Arena did have some issues that I didn't like. It wasn't perfect the day it was born. I do think that it did need some fixes, and the incoming March update fixes a lot of them. It makes it a lot less hardcore (we already have the MLG playlist for the super hardcore players), makes the division and rank you earn stick around for a little more so you can show it off but not park / boost to it once and never play Arena again, and condenses it down to a single playlist in order to concentrate the population since there were way too many playlists that were slayer only in matchmaking.

And it does fix some of the last deranking / boosting problem in that teams are submitted to the TS blackbox by win/loss instead of being sorted by their Rating and then submitted - this makes it pointless to quit out right at the end of the game, and makes it so you cannot go in and pull in lower TS players for a higher TS player by intentionally playing poorly. The older system was probably just a bit too accurately placing people on the TS spectrum.

You'll still have to get that rating every day, but the transparency of the process is a bit clearer and more accessible. I hope that just like Halo 3, the population starts to go upwards after the while for matchmaking. And it should.

Arena (in tandem with the other rank improvements) has brought legitimacy to the less casual players who invest their time into the system, while not punishing the Firefight, Campaign, and non-hardcore and super-hardcore fans who wish to not participate. Players who earn their Onyx earn my respect for their time and skill with no questions asked. Going back to 1-50 would not only be outright step backwards of about 6-7 years of hard lessons and work, it'd result in me selling my copy of Reach and/or not even buying the 343 Halo.

So.. how's your Saturday been?

fyrewulff dot com

Message Index


Why We Should Never Go Back to 1-50.. orFyreWulff 2/26/11 3:25 p.m.
     Re: Why We Should Never Go Back to 1-50.. orPkmnrulz240 2/26/11 3:42 p.m.
     Excellent, excellent post *NM*mr_mcmurder 2/26/11 4:00 p.m.
     I agree with your opinion, good sir.snakegriffin 2/26/11 4:10 p.m.
     Re: Why We Should Never Go Back to 1-50.. orHyokin 2/26/11 4:14 p.m.
     Re: Why We Should Never Go Back to 1-50.. orZackDark 2/26/11 4:15 p.m.
     Re: Why We Should Never Go Back to 1-50.. orKalamariKidd 2/26/11 4:46 p.m.
     I don't play Arena...munky-058 2/26/11 4:54 p.m.
     Re: Why We Should Never Go Back to 1-50.. orDEEP NNN 2/26/11 5:00 p.m.
           Re: Why We Should Never Go Back to 1-50.. orGrimBrother One 2/26/11 5:05 p.m.
                 Re: Why We Should Never Go Back to 1-50.. orLouis Wu 2/26/11 5:07 p.m.
                       Re: Why We Should Never Go Back to 1-50.. orDEEP NNN 2/26/11 5:13 p.m.
                             Re: Why We Should Never Go Back to 1-50.. orDani 2/26/11 6:34 p.m.
                                   Re: Why We Should Never Go Back to 1-50.. orFyreWulff 2/26/11 6:53 p.m.
                                   Re: Why We Should Never Go Back to 1-50.. orDEEP NNN 2/26/11 7:02 p.m.
                                         Re: Why We Should Never Go Back to 1-50.. orDani 2/26/11 9:05 p.m.
                       Re: Why We Should Never Go Back to 1-50.. orbluerunner 2/26/11 7:36 p.m.
                             Ranksdogcom 2/26/11 7:53 p.m.
                                   Re: RanksDEEP NNN 2/26/11 8:05 p.m.
                                         Re: RanksFyreWulff 2/26/11 8:08 p.m.
                 Re: Why We Should Never Go Back to 1-50.. orDEEP NNN 2/26/11 5:09 p.m.
                 Re: Why We Should Never Go Back to 1-50.. orvlad3163 2/26/11 10:10 p.m.
     But CR = Idlers Paradisesharpsniper99 2/26/11 6:41 p.m.
           Re: But CR = Idlers ParadiseFyreWulff 2/26/11 7:05 p.m.
                 Re: But CR = Idlers ParadiseFyreWulff 2/26/11 7:15 p.m.
                 Re: But CR = Idlers Paradisesharpsniper99 2/27/11 4:34 a.m.
                       Re: But CR = Idlers Paradisesharpsniper99 2/27/11 5:04 a.m.
     PS. Fyrefulff, Gr1m?munky-058 2/26/11 6:46 p.m.
           Re: PS. Fyrefulff, Gr1m?FyreWulff 2/26/11 7:45 p.m.
                 Fyrefluff? That's OUSTANDING!munky-058 2/26/11 8:02 p.m.
     Nicedogcom 2/26/11 7:57 p.m.
     I actually read the whole thing. *NM*SonGoharotto 2/26/11 8:11 p.m.
           Bleep Bloop *NM*FyreWulff 2/26/11 8:12 p.m.
     Sup Devin OlsenFyreWulff 2/26/11 8:12 p.m.
           Re: Sup Devin OlsenDevin Olsen 2/26/11 8:37 p.m.
                 Re: Sup Devin OlsenFyreWulff 2/26/11 8:47 p.m.
                 Re: Sup Devin OlsenSonGoharotto 2/26/11 9:04 p.m.
                       Re: Sup Devin OlsenArteenEsben 2/26/11 9:33 p.m.
                             Re: Sup Devin OlsenDevin Olsen 2/26/11 9:52 p.m.
                                   Re: Sup Devin Olsenmunky-058 2/26/11 10:09 p.m.
                                         Re: Sup Devin OlsenSonGoharotto 2/27/11 8:31 a.m.
                                   Re: Sup Devin OlsenGeneral Vagueness 2/26/11 10:52 p.m.
                                         Re: Sup Devin OlsenHawaiian Pig 2/27/11 4:33 p.m.
                                               Re: Sup Devin OlsenHawaiian Pig 2/27/11 4:37 p.m.
                                                     Re: Sup Devin OlsenGeneral Vagueness 2/27/11 5:52 p.m.
                 Re: Sup Devin OlsenBlueNinja 2/27/11 5:56 a.m.
     Nice post.Gravemind 2/27/11 2:44 a.m.
           Re: Nice post.DEEP NNN 2/27/11 8:20 a.m.
                 Re: Nice post.BlueNinja 2/27/11 9:49 a.m.
                       Re: Nice post.FyreWulff 2/27/11 10:07 a.m.
                             Re: Nice post.BlueNinja 2/27/11 12:00 p.m.
                             Re: Nice post.Gravemind 2/27/11 12:32 p.m.
           Re: Nice post.FyreWulff 2/27/11 9:38 a.m.
                 if you flag hold on my teamkidtsunami 2/27/11 3:37 p.m.
                       Re: if you flag hold on my teamFyreWulff 2/27/11 4:15 p.m.
                             ^ I have the same mindset as you two.NsU Soldier 2/27/11 7:33 p.m.
     Re: Why We Should Never Go Back to 1-50.. orZogen 2/27/11 4:29 a.m.
     Re: Why We Should Never Go Back to 1-50.. orzonemanwilf 2/27/11 4:42 a.m.
           Re: Why We Should Never Go Back to 1-50.. orDEEP NNN 2/27/11 9:07 a.m.
           Re: Why We Should Never Go Back to 1-50.. orFyreWulff 2/27/11 10:05 a.m.
           Re: Why We Should Never Go Back to 1-50.. orKalamariKidd 2/27/11 10:17 a.m.
     Some notes....RC Master 2/27/11 11:09 a.m.
           Re: Some notes....FyreWulff 2/27/11 11:47 a.m.
                 Re: Some notes....RC Master 2/28/11 9:28 a.m.
                       Re: Some notes....FyreWulff 2/28/11 10:01 a.m.
     Wholeheartedly agree *NM*kidtsunami 2/28/11 12:05 a.m.

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