Making Anime Reality, Part 5: Characters Redux

Happy Holidays and Happy New Year! We hope everyone is having a magical holiday season~!

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Some of you are probably wondering about the characters in our Facebook and Twitter banners. You might remember Sadie (middle), who we briefly talked about in our previous Making Anime Reality post. She has been completely redesigned! At her sides, you’ll find Kristi (left) and Sam (right). With new artists joining the team, we have revamped some of our main character designs! For this post, we want to introduce our main characters with some basic information as well as certain roles they might play in the game.

Who Are These Characters and What Roles Will They Have in The Game?

Being enrolled in a magic academy would be pretty lonely without other students. Also attending, these three will be your teammates and party members that go out on missions with you in the world. By spending time with them in and out of the classroom, you will get to know their unique personality traits.  

sadie_sheet1Sadie is your melee combat specialist and she has no qualms cutting people down to size. A high-achiever, she is often at odds with the people around her when they don’t meet her standards. You can depend on her offensive magic when the going gets tough but it’s not like she’s doing this for you, or anything!

sam_sheet1Sam is the resident geek in your group of four; don’t be surprised when you stumble upon his figurine collection! Being an “average joe”, he and Sadie rarely see eye-to-eye on most matters. He might not be able to express himself that well but his proficiency in abjuration magic will provide all the talking he needs in a fight.

kristi_sheet1Kristi is the glue of the team; her bright and cheery personality provides a soothing presence when things get rocky. She might seem a bit flighty, but you can always count on her to do her best in times of trouble. Her vast knowledge of nature comes in handy when you least expect it: whether you’re trying to take a monster down or cooking it up in potions class.

Keep in mind that none of these ideas are fully solidified and could be changed later on in development.


We couldn’t have had these fantastic character designs without help from our artists! If you are interesting in seeing more of their work, make sure to like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter so you are guaranteed not to miss any future posts! Comment if you have any feedback about the characters. Let us know what you want to see posted in the future!

Thanks as always and see you next time!

Familiar Works

We are not dead!

Hey everyone,

It’s been quite some time since we last posted, but we are happy to announce that we are not dead. We’re quite alive and well actually! We brought a lot more members on the team after organizing two independent study courses across two departments at UCSD.  You can find out more info on the team on our website: familiar.works

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The team made it out alive

Over the last few months, we really hammered down on the fundamentals of the core VRRPG experience.  That involves questing and all sorts of other essential components designed exclusively with virtual reality in mind.

With the help of our VIS 198 students, we made great progress in the visual and content driven side of the game. 

Events

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Our booth at WGF

We try to demo what we have worked on whenever the opportunity arises.  In February, we had the chance to show off some of our work at WinterGameFest at UCSD.

In May, we won both the best VR submission and crowd favorite VR submission at the ArtPower Student New Media Festival for an older demo of Mahou~! 

We don’t have any plans to demo in the immediate future, but be on the lookout for us in 2018. 

 

What’s next?

We will resume our blog series, Making Anime Reality.  We hope to post much more frequently on social media, showcasing work from all our developers. Make sure to follow us on Twitter @Familiar_Works!

Thanks as always!

Familiar Works

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Making Anime Reality, Part 4: Characters

Why is solid character design integral to RPG narrative and how do we go about creating characters?

An important step of setting the mood for a magical adventure is to think about the visuals. girl7bContrary to the dark and gritty art direction of many popular western RPG’s, we want to express our game’s world through a wide range of colors. We opted to use cel shading to capture an anime-like aesthetic. It lightens the development load by allowing us to focus more on palettes and tone, rather than complex texture mapping.

We use Blender to make the overwhelming majority of our 3D assets. The process of creating decent humanoid characters has proven to be quite the challenge and we have gone through a ton of iterations to get the models to match our anime theme.

When designing an RPG it is important to take in mind the following:

  1. As developers, we are the builders of our world.
  2. Characters are both a product of the world and an agent residing in it.
  3. As such, characters should both interact with and make changes to the world.

Each character we create goes through a process with the end goal being a humanized and relatable part of the story.

If we can’t think of anything unique when designing a character or story element, we often start with a well known trope.    

For example, we will examine one of the player’s classmates, Sadie.  On the surface, she should appear to be a common tsundere character (a trope in anime and manga which refers to a character who flips between two emotional states at the slightest provocation).

After we have thought of the very rough concept, we sketch out what they might look like:

We know very well that people are not one dimensional. They possess flaws and vulnerabilities.  Without truly understanding all of their motives, they should  appear to act unpredictably.  While it may be a good idea to use common tropes as familiar starting points, it would be a disservice to the player to stop there. We really want to take the extra steps and think more about a character’s unique personality quirks, backstory, and goals.  

Over time we are able to think of and record a range of more complex thoughts such as exchanges between characters, how a character might act in a particular situation, and any other interesting bit that comes up throughout the development day.  The biggest factor here is time and patience.  

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No one would suspect Sadie’s penchant for potion making.

For anyone attempting to organize their own world building endeavor, we would highly recommend setting up a wiki.  It has proven to be incredibly useful for organizing non-linear narrative, spell databases, and every detail other of the world.

Thanks as always!

Mahou no Bazooka Dev Team

Making Anime Reality, Part 3 – The World

How are we making our world as immersive as possible?

We have separated the world into two distinct sections.  The academy, and everything else.

In the academy, the player will be able to attend classes and learn about various magical crafts.  It is a safe place.  You are free to explore the grounds to your heart’s content.  There will be classes and hands-on workshops you can attend to further your magical studies.

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 We modeled the academy after Late Renaissance architecture and Italian Mannerisms. We felt it fit the magical theme of the game quite well because of its antiquated style and unique structure. Lots of the buildings from the game are inspired from real world buildings from this era like the Villa Farnesia, Tempietto, and many more.  The building below was inspired by JoJo’s though.

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We want the player to feel that the academy was built ages ago and that it is a prestigious institution.  Don’t worry,  you won’t rack up any debt for playing the game. In every building in the academy we are creating lookout points and vistas to really show off the scale of the world.

When you feel brave enough to take on the world, you can venture out into the mysterious unknown that surrounds the academy.  We separated the world into regions, each with their own theme and elemental properties.  We plan to vary the flora and fauna in each region so that the player has plenty of content to discover.  The farther away from the academy you venture, the more difficult the game becomes.

One way we plan to show that we care about designing with VR in mind is through the use of instances and small dungeons littered throughout the various regions.  They are a sort of mini-adventure that provide a decent cut off point for those on a tight schedule.  While we make it our goal to immerse the player as much as possible, we can’t require them to be strapped away for hours on end just to crawl through through a massive labyrinth.

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The common mindset on various online communities is that a large open world and virtual reality usually do not mix well.  PC VR developers are encouraged to limit the amount of movement needed in their content.  We will take a moment to address some of the common concerns you all might have and explain how we believe Virtual Reality has some major advantages over other medium for experiencing collosal environments.  

You are probably wondering how you will move about the world. Teleportation, the most common and least jarring form of locomotion, comes at the cost of being fairly immersion breaking.  Artificial locomotion is found by some to be nausea inducing; however, it is much easier to cover longer distances.  It might be tedious to have to constantly teleport across longer distances as opposed just holding down a button.  We have also tinkered with flying and it seems to be alright once you get used to it.  We don’t think there is one definite solution to the problem of locomotion in VR so we are just going to leave it to personal preference. We have implemented several interchangeable methods of movement to suit the player’s individual needs.       

On a much less controversial note, properly conveying scale in VR can leave the player in awe.  Imagine climbing to the top of a mountain and looking out over the valley below, or perhaps walking into a lavish hall with a tall ceiling. Seeing those breathtaking views through the headset is as close to the real deal as it gets.  It feels like you are transported to another world as to become part of the environment.  We want the player to be able to look of into the distance and be able to visit whatever they see.

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Being able to construct a building and walk through it immediately afterward really assists us in development.  We can prototype buildings rapidly and get a sense for what it feels like to actually be inside it.  We are making sure that every place in the world feels satisfying. 

The next major advantage of VR is ease of intractability.  It is much easier to interact with the world when it feels like you are there.  We attempt to make everything in the environment interact intuitively with the player. From the smallest details such as proper sounds when objects collide, to doors that function properly, it should feel good.  This is more of a double edged sword. With complete freedom of expression in the Vive comes the added responsibility of accounting for all of the crazy things the player can do.

There are a myriad of components to consider when going about making every bit of the world interactable.  One of them is modeling and animation, which we will cover next week!

Thanks as always for reading,

Mahou no Bazooka Dev Team

Making Anime Reality, Part 2: Magic

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to have magical powers, just like your favorite anime protagonist?  

Over the course of development, many people have CastingBall.gifapproached us and expressed their desire to cast a particular type of magic in the game, saying something along the lines of,  “Wouldn’t it be cool to use <insert shounen move here> in VR?”  As highly refined anime connoisseurs, we found ourselves wanting the same thing. In fact, the first spell that we implemented during the project’s inception period highly resembled Goku’s Spirit Bomb.  The power rush from conjuring large energy bursts felt exhilarating – we can say that we’ve experienced a popular anime trope first hand.

While giving a player the ability to fire large energy bursts made sense for our tower-defense demo, we’ve had to address several design questions while transforming the game into a RPG:

How can we implement a notion of progression while utilizing the Vive’s unique control scheme to its full extent?  

What anime powers should be included?

To address the preceding questions, we’ll need to set the scene. As a player, you enter the world as a novice magician enrolling into a magical academy. You hardly can fire a lightning bolt in a straight line. Casting something grand like a spirit bomb would seem like a faraway goal. Yet as a student of magic, you know that you’re on the right path. The knowledge to cast an arsenal of spells awaits you on your journey.

Traditional RPGs commonly capture a notion of growth by giving players new weapons and spells that scale up the player’s damage. However, tying high damage outputs to a player level or expensive equipment can encourage players towards grinding. If the enemies are too challenging to defeat, a player might mow down a few scrub mobs to obtain better equipment and abilities to beat the stronger enemies. We believe purely scaling damage does not fully utilize the Vive. Rather than growing as a player, they would simply grow as a number. We want the player to do meaningful things while playing as opposed to tiring themselves out with mundane tasks. We want to discourage grinding mindsets and reward strategic thinking and developing skill significantly more.

An elemental categorization scheme adds another layer of depth to combat strategy. It forces the player to think about resistances and what kind of spells are effective in each situation. Tangible Spell Gems store the various spells a player might find. A player can swap between spells by embedding their equipment with a spell. Using a quick selection system akin to the Budget Cuts demo, a player can swap spells with relative ease. A prepared player might conceivably tackle any scenario.



In our fantastical world, spells fall into six elemental categories:

jraphic

 

We quantify the player’s mastery over the individual elements through a scalar we call Affinity. Affinity represents control over an element, but does not increase the raw damage value of a spell. Higher Affinity leads to a range of benefits for the player, such as greater accuracy and quicker cast times. The player should notice a subtle progression of their control over spells in conjunction with their own targeting abilities.

Take a look at these two comparative GIFs of a simple lightning bolt:

They are both the same spell and deal the same amount of damage on contact. However, the higher affinity player should have a much easier time hitting their target.

While we have many spells planned for the future, addressing the topic could easily take another blog post. In the meantime, we want to know what kinds of spells you want to cast in virtual reality. We would love to hear any suggestions or feedback!

Next week we’ll discuss the world!

Part 3 – The World

Thanks for reading,

Mahou no Bazooka Dev Team

Making Anime Reality, Part 1: Melee Combat

In traditional computer games, flawlessly executing an attack could be as simple as pressing a series of buttons.  This is not the case for VR.  Since the Vive allows for near perfect 1:1 tracking of hand movement, we have focused a large portion of development effort on achieving some semblance of gamified combat realism.  As such, we have separated combat into two major categories: physical and magical.

We realized a major flaw in our physical combat system during the Triton Gaming Expo: players could easily “cheese the system” by wildly slashing in short, rapid succession. To combat this problem (pun only slightly intended), we initially thought to set a minimum velocity threshold on the player’s controller to determine an attack’s validity. While several successful VR titles have implemented similar systems, we thought to take the idea a step further. Rather than setting a minimum velocity, we devised an equation that translates and scales the magnitudes of the controller’s angular velocity and linear velocity directly to a raw damage value.

This idea is simple thinking in terms of our regular reality. If you lightly slap your arm, you feel a tiny, dull sensation lingering after the tap. If you roughly smack your arm, then you’ll feel a sharper, more intense pain (don’t actually try this like I did to come up with the analogy).

 

 

 

How do we express the damage D mathematically? Click here!

Let D = K_\omega P_c | \omega_c | + K_V | V_c| be the amount of damage dealt where
P_c is the point of contact relative to the weapon’s base
\omega_c is the controller’s angular velocity
V_c is the controller’s linear velocity
K_\omega, K_V are a scalar weights

 

 

 

To say our mathematical model is successful, we set out to meet the following criteria:

  1. “Cheesing” or small,  rapid swings should apply little to no damage.
  2. Hard slashes should apply much more damage.

The exciting news is: the system works!

The graph below plots the linear velocity magnitudes over time of a Vive controller being swung by Kalan. The measured magnitudes shot-up high while swinging the sword and stayed insignificantly low with “cheesing” swings.
kalan_data.png

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Raw Velocity Values

KalanSwingSword.gif

We decided to emphasize the value of the controller’s linear velocity more than its angular velocity. Since the numeric values of Vive’s weight and length are much lower than the simulated tool’s weight and length, the player can apply angular velocity much faster than actually moving it within space.

Early in development, we encountered another interesting design challenge unique to VR: processing the player’s attack input. The player doesn’t press A-A-B-A-A to execute some combo of attacks – they’re actually performing the action of swinging a weapon. The player can make an attack in almost any way imaginable. To explore the movement space, let’s examine the a few possibilities of attacking with a spear. The player can:

  1. Stab the target
  2. Cut the target
  3. Miss while slashing (bashing the target with the wooden end of the spear)
  4. Bash the target intentionally (pushing the target back with the wooden portion of the spear)

To account for these scenarios, we’ve implemented a categorization scheme that distills the types of player actions into the following categories: Slashing, Piercing, and Blunt. We split our weapons into discrete regions that define the weapon’s damage category within that region. We believe a diverse weapon pool created within this system will encourage players to employ strategic thinking before entering a region and while fighting an enemy. By designing enemies with weaknesses and resistances to particular damage categories, this model forces players to think about which weapon fits the combat scenario and rewards them for using it properly.

One of the most frustrating features we have found playing a variety of popular VR RPG titles is that the enemies’ armor mitigates 100% of the player’s damage. One might argue that this requires the player to strike with more precision and work around to find the weak spots; however, we believe the player will be more engaged if repeatedly bashing an armored enemy chipped away their armor.  In reality, under a barrage of attacks there are many manageable variables to take into consideration, such as blunt force trauma and fatigue.  

Stay tuned for next week’s post where we talk all about spells and magic.

Part 2 – Magic

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Until next time,

Mahou no Bazooka Dev Team

We are back (again)

To those interested in Mahou no Bazooka,

image01We were never gone.  We went incognito for some time while we worked out lots of challenges and searched for a clear direction to take the game.  We spent the entire summer developing crazy mechanics and expanding upon previous ideas so we will have plenty of content to show in the coming weeks.  For now,  I thought it would be appropriate to introduce each member of the team.

 


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Hey everyone, I’m Kalan Miurrelle and I wear many hats to serve as  the CEO, lead game designer, and general purpose artist for the company.  Working on the game allows me to explore various design elements and problems that arise from the freedom of movement in the Vive.  For example, as a lifetime fencer and sword fanatic, it has been of paramount importance to make combat as riveting as possible in virtual reality.  To do this, we have had to diverge greatly from traditional computer games and think of solutions from an incredibly multidisciplinary lens.  I love breaking down games into their individual components so I have had a blast designing anything from the intricate systems to the miscellaneous bits that go into such a colossal undertaking.

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Neural net trained to block attacks

Hi, I’m Michael Gonzalez, a full-stack software engineer, creative designer, special effects artist, aspiring 3D-modeler, and “word inventor” for Mahou no Bazooka. I love programming and researching cool things related to naturally expressing complex logical thought and artificial intelligence. How can we best express hard problems and represent a robust solution within a constantly changing world to a computer?   How should a computer perceive the world around it? What structures facilitate this perception? Working on such a large virtual reality project like Mahou no Bazooka allows me to explore these fascinating questions.

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Cabble


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Hello, I’m Nadia Kurihara and I work as a 3D modeler and resident architect for the team. I am obsessed with everything related to virtual reality, anime, and games. My role in the team is to help create models for buildings, objects, creatures, and anything else that needs to be done. I think the most fun I had working on modeling over the summer was making cool Ikea trips and taking photos for reference to model interior objects! Below are some cool things I’ve been working on and I still plan on many more in the future.


image10Hey, I’m Naomi Kurihara and I am a concept artist currently working on the virtual reality game Mahou no Bazooka.  My job involves developing concept sketches and bringing those ideas to life.  I focus on characters, costume and creature design. Most of my design concepts are either hand drawn or done in Photoshop.

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Character Design

Together with the team, I designed the main protagonists of Mahou no Bazooka. With schooling at Saddleback College, I plan on transferring to get my B.A in Entertainment. I am currently taking classes at Del Mar Art Academy and Kazone to help improve my work andcreate a portfolio to transfer.

 


image08Hello, my name is Daniel Castleman.  I am an audio engineer with extensive audio experience across many diverse entertainment platforms.  I am new to the world of video game audio, especially VR, and I am fascinated with how audio and audio treatments can add to the virtual experience.  Recently I had the opportunity to record some sounds for Mahou no Bazooka with some of the team members, to create authentic sound effects to be used throughout the game.

 


image12.pngHello my name is Timothy, I am a modeler for Mahou no Bazooka. Some of my favorite models to make during the project have been different types of monsters. I have gotten inspiration for them from many different places, including from old retro games, tabletop RPG’s and the nightmares I got as a kid after going to chuck-e-cheese.

 

Dev Blog 6 – “114 Days until Steam Dev Days”

Hey Everyone,

It’s been a while since we updated the blog.  With finals finished and summer beginning,  I am happy to announce that we have resumed development on the game.  In fact, we started developing a week and a half ago but didn’t post anything (sorry).

After careful consideration, we have decided to completely revamp the experience that is Mahou no Bazooka.  We are currently making the transition from a simple arcade wave-clearing game to an actual RPG.  This includes creating complex enemy AI, a better combat system, an expansive world, and of course, a sense of progression.  I don’t want to spoil too much just yet, but we have a ton of really cool things planned.

The first question you are probably asking is, how do we deal with locomotion?  As of now, we have the standard teleport (similar to The Lab or Vanishing Realms) and a very rudimentary (and surprisingly not motion sickness inducing) flying.  It is a big problem and we are constantly looking for more solutions.  As someone who gets motion sickness very easily in the Vive, I want to give the player their choice of preferred movement.  More on this later.

Oh also we cleaned up the project folder and got rid of some free asset store stuff we used for the demo.  We are undergoing some serious renovations in terms of graphics so not many pretty pictures to share today.

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Back to the default Unity skybox until I make a better one, hopefully soon.

As a developer, it is mildly frustrating seeing a lack of substantial content for virtual reality.  There are a dangerous amount of games on the steam store selling for the price of a full game that hardly seem worth the money.  I understand that virtual reality is new for most people, but it really is time to push developers to create more than just gimmicks that are capitalizing on VR as a new medium.

Lastly,  Steam Dev Days is in October! We plan on attending.

Thanks for reading and see you next time,

Kalan

Dev Blog 5 – “Post-TGEX”

Hey Everyone,

After both a successful and stressful day of showing our game to the crowd at Triton Gaming Expo 2016, we take a few minutes to reflect on the event.

The event was a great gathering for people interested in all aspects of video games ranging from art, to development, to competitive play.  Not only did it give us the opportunity to interact with professionals in the industry, but also those who simply loved to play games.

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A chiaby getting hit by magic

It was not all smooth sailing as there were technical issues we had to overcome. The night before, we encountered issues with audio and lighting. We had been working on the game for several weeks, and at this stage we were polishing the demo for it to be enjoyable for the player. Attempting to bake the lighting into the scene caused severe lag in the build (which is not good since VR experiences for the Vive must run smoothly at 90 fps).  Of course adding audio at the last minute broke a few things and required a few late night repairs.

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Attempting to set up the Vive in the morning

The next day, with very little sleep our polished build was ready to go; however, even more technical difficulties arose while setting up the Vive. For some odd reason, the Vive would not calibrate the floor properly. After rotating through three different Vive setups (thank you VGDC and VR club for helping us try to solve the problem), and four hours of troubleshooting we were still unsuccessful. “Error Code C201, please run room setup” persisted.  Luckily, HTC came to our rescue!

Despite the above difficulties, we were incredibly thankful to have HTC allow us demo our game in their booth until we found a work around to the problem. One of our team members even went to help out at the HTC booth all day.

The solution we finally came up with involved resizing the player’s platform and manually positioning the camera within Unity to account for the offset floor.  When all was done, the reception we received was phenomenal!

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Giving demos to TGEX attendees

People quickly lined up at our original booth, eagerly wrote their names down on the waitlist, and watched others play as they anxiously waited their turn. One by one, each person took the headset, and hacked away at the Chiaby! At the end of their session they all raved about their experience. One guy played it four times… and yes… he added himself to the waitlist and waited for his turn those four times!

It was a very amazing experience, and surely there will be many more amazing experiences to come. The gears of development never stop turning on our team.

We hope to captivate the imaginations of our present and future audiences by immersing them in the fantastical world that is Mahou no Bazooka!

Thanks for reading and see you next time,

Mahou no Bazooka Dev Team

Dev Blog 4 – “5 Days until Expo”

Hey everyone,

With the 2016 Triton Gaming Expo closely approaching, we are making a tremendous amount of progress on the game.  It is always interesting looking back even a few days and seeing how much we have done in all aspects of development.  I don’t want to spoil too much before Sunday.

Remember the monster concept I made a few days ago?  We have our basic ground enemy all rigged up, animated, and ready to go for the demo on Sunday. Make sure to visit us and play the game!

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The Chiaby.  Fearless. Majestic. Don’t let their cuteness deter you from slaying them.

For the developers out there, don’t forget to rotate your model appropriately in whatever 3D modelling software you are using before you import it into Unity, even if it is absolutely hilarious to see a monster sliding sideways at you.

In the realm of mechanics, we have continued to optimize controls while in the Vive.  We have also structured the demo so that waves of enemies that scale in number over time approach the platform.

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The most popular guy at UCSD relaxing in the Vive.

We would love to update this blog more often but none of us have a lot of time in between school and developing top quality virtual reality experiences.  I’ll leave you guys with a better sword model.

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Seer’s Longsword of Infinite Temporal Dissonance

Thanks for reading and see you next time,

Kalan