4X

Remnant Q&A

Three years ago we first heard of the game Remnant. We wrote up a little piece about it and then everything went radio silent. Well, good news: the primary developer A. Scott McCallum is back and he is almost done developing this promising game. So, we thought we’d catch up and see where we stand in the development of Remnant.

Remnanttitle

Could you start by telling us about your team?

I’m the designer and programmer who has been hacking away at Remnant for over three years now. The original Civilization is what hooked me on 4X, and got me into strategy gaming in general. As for personal accomplishments, as far as strategy games go, I’m really proud of reaching Master league in StarCraft 2. Kandi Maciejewski (https://twitter.com/ArtByKandles), a former EA artist, works on the user interface. She loves games of all types, but is an avid strategy gamer too. The rest of the content comes from freelance workers who come and go.

What was the inspiration for your game?

The two largest influences in Remnant‘s creation are my own love of strategy games, and the complete lack of fresh concepts in 4X as a whole. So many 4X games, especially from indie developers, are simply trying to re-imagine Master of Orion. Now don’t get me wrong, MoO and MoO2 are fantastic games, but you can’t tweak a classic and expect to breathe new life into the genre. For me, the whole experience ends up feeling sterile and uninspired. You never want that “I’ve done this before” feeling in a 4X game as half the fun is learning all the new gameplay systems.

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Handsome fellow with some serious leadership chops.

As for games that have inspired me, my favourite 4X of all time is the criminally underrated Star Wars Rebellion. The way heroes worked in that game and the connection you make with the world through them has always stuck with me. When you assign Admiral Thrawn to a fleet you name, on a flagship you name, and he intercepts and captures Han Solo – who you then transport to a hidden outer rim planet you’ve designated as a penal colony with all the other rebel scum you’ve captured – you connect with the game in a way that makes it uniquely yours.  You’ve made all of these intimately personal choices that create your own little narrative. That’s exactly the feeling I’m going for with Remnant.

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Simple but effective.

What about the setting? Could you quickly summarize the storyline and tell us about some big picture details?

There’s no FTL (faster than light travel) in Remnant. You start and end the game entirely in a single planetary system.  Every planet, moon or asteroid orbits and revolves in accordance with Kepler’s laws. Absolutely nothing is static. You’ll be amazed at how alive the system feels when you first load up the game. Planetary motion adds a whole new layer to strategic decision-making, too.

The gist of the story is that a group left Earth on a one-way trip eventually splinted into unique governing factions as they settled the new system. You take control of one such faction.

Are there multiple factions in your game? Can you give us a few details about each one?

[We’re] still working on the unique hook for each faction [, so more on that in the future].

What is the object of play in your game? Is there more than one victory condition?

Remnant, like a more traditional RTS, was designed from the get-go to be conquest based. It deviates from the traditional formula by being smaller scale and more tactical in nature, with a thick layer of espionage to supplement your direct combat abilities. Everything was built to allow counter-play and the ability to strategically outwit your opponents. There’s nothing more frustrating to me than an arbitrary victory condition that abruptly ends the game with little or no chance to react. It’s especially infuriating when the only path to counter an opponent’s non-combat based victory is with combat. What’s the point of all these other victory conditions if everything revolves around combat in the end, but then the combat kind of sucks because of all the development time spent on these other conditions? So in Remnant it’s kill or be killed.

So, what about the combat? How will that work in this game?

Combat was designed from the ground up to avoid winner-takes-all deathball engagements. I absolutely despise that style of gameplay. There is nothing strategically interesting, or personally rewarding, about slamming your fleet of 200 cruisers into your opponent’s 170 cruisers and the mathematical snowball that results in the game being effectively over in the blink of an eye. You then have that boring slog through each enemy system, crushing their pathetic remains until you actually win, or you just say you win and load up a new game instead.

To get a grasp on Remnant‘s combat, first you need to know how the game world is broken up.  Each planetary body isn’t a single point like most other games. Instead, it’s a collection of sectors which are unique regions in space around the body where ships can linger in orbit and colonies can be founded on the surface. An Earth-like body might have a dozen sectors or more. It’s important to know that these sectors are not connected in any way – there are no space highways, no tiles, no grids – ships fly around in full 3D space and can move from any sector to any other sector with the only limiting factor being travel time (no FTL remember). This system of sectors keeps fleet engagements small in scope and prioritizes tactics. Moving all of your forces to a single sector is suicide for your empire.

The idea behind the combat system is that you’re commanding the Enterprise and Voyager, not dozens of anonymous beam cruisers. Ships have large pools of health and retreating to fight another day is always an option. Each ship can carry a huge suite of tactical abilities, or powers, which trigger lengthy cooldowns when deployed. This gives players reactive options. Losing a fleet is not game over, it merely means you’ve lost control of that particular sector. Large health pools, long cooldowns on abilities, and travel time between sectors have a beautiful strategic side effect: downtime. Ships take time to repair and refresh their abilities after a major engagement, which creates the opportunity for counterattacks. A fresh fleet from a neighbouring sector can swoop in with full hull integrity and a plethora of abilities ready to unleash, [helping the player] re-establish control of the lost sector. It also prevents an endless steamroll forward through territory. This creates a dynamic, shifting battlescape that needs a continuous stream of fresh ships ready to fight while protecting or pulling back your damaged ships. A beautiful back-and-forth.

Players who are familiar with Nexus: The Jupiter Incident will feel right at home.

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Where’s my Alpha fleet?

How does empire management work in this game?

By far the most unique aspect of Remnant is empire and colony management. At the core of Remnant‘s gameplay systems are agents. Agents are randomly generated hero characters with a name, portrait and a collection of RPG-like attributes. They fill every role: spies, admirals, diplomats, governors, engineers, scientists, and even more.

Colonies are where things really start to go off the rails compared to other 4X games: there are no buildings, no farms, no mines, no power plants, nothing. Instead, colonies are developed and defined through their programs. Programs are government-funded initiatives that require an agent to lead them as director. Constructing a ship, exploring a planetary body, researching new technology, developing financial infrastructure, negotiating a peace deal, recruiting new agents or spying on your enemies are just a few examples of  possible programs. Each program lasts a predetermined amount of time and the competency of the agent leading it will determine how valuable the results are when the program concludes. Programs which cannot have varying results – such as constructing a ship – simply take more time with a less experienced agent.

Each colony has a limited amount of program slots available depending on its size and location. Older, more established colonies on larger worlds with more population generally support more government infrastructure. This inherent limitation creates meaningful, personal choice. You have a tiny moon outpost and it’s up to you whether you use it as a research station, a remote construction facility for a new secret weapon or a staging ground for clandestine operations against your opponents. These small choices create narrative opportunities for your empire. It’s not just another generic, small colony that can only support two farms, a mine and a power station. It becomes a hidden base on the forest moon of Endor. Another thread in your empire’s story. It has an identity and purpose beyond the mathematical results of its output.

So with the primary role of an agent to act as director, and program gains tied directly to their abilities, you can see that a veteran agent is worth their weight in gold to your empire.  There’s just one catch: agents are not invincible. They can be assassinated, or kidnapped by your enemy to be used as bargaining chips in diplomatic interactions. Killed in combat. Die in an accident, or even defect during an internal crisis. It’s your job to nurture their development into strong, able leaders while safeguarding them from harm.

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Are there any special resources or locations players will be able to exploit? How will they affect play?

There are actually no resources at all. No food, ore, lumber or magic space crystals to be found. That doesn’t mean that people won’t starve or that energy is free, it’s just not an individual currency you need to worry about. As long as you keep your people content and infrastructural development in line with the size of the colony’s population, the private sector will handle the rest. You’re the emperor who delegates tasks to their agents, not a city planner.

Locations, on the other hand, are exceedingly important. The entire array of available colony programs changes depending on the world type the colony is on. Ships construct radically faster on lower gravity worlds because of the ease of orbit access. Exciting new research is only available on exotic worlds. Everything is complicated further, from an offensive and defensive positioning point of view, by the fact that every colony moves through space as time progresses.

What are the limits to expanding one’s empire in this game? Are there any mechanics in place to limit or disincentivize city/planet spam?

I’ve never been a fan of how colonies can sometimes feel more like “franchises” in a corporate empire rather than extensions of your unified empire’s power. You found them, build a farm and a few turns later they’re basically self-sufficient. Then you begin executing your mundane build order appropriate for the world type and number of development tiles available. You never really feel connected with these colonies, they’re nothing more than +3 science and +2 food to you.

In Remnant, newly founded colonies are basically useless at contributing to your empire. The range of available programs at new colonies is heavily focused on the internal development of the colony itself. They’re also a drain on your empire as a whole, to simulate the influx of resources and colonists required to sustain them. As the infrastructure grows, so too does the range of available programs and the quantity you can run simultaneously. It’s at this point that the colony begins to have its own identity. You can turn it into a trade port, or a shipyard, or a secret base to run black ops against your opponents – but not a little bit of all three. You don’t want to run programs that yield inefficient results because the cost is the same no matter what.

So basically, Remnant favours playing tall but allows wide play if you’re willing to make sacrifices to the overall development of your entire empire.

What about minor factions, quests, heroes, or random events? Are any of these in your game, and if so, can you explain what they are like?

All of these exist, to some degree, except for minor factions. The entire game is built around the concept of agents, which you could think of as more sophisticated heroes from other games. Internal quests quasi-exist with how one colony program can unlock a new colony program, which in turn can unlock new programs throughout your empire as a whole. There are hundreds of random events, including a lot that involve your agents. There are, however, absolutely no “major plot” random events – the kind that railroad you towards some final crisis or huge meta event – I want the player to roleplay their own narrative from start to finish.

Could you describe the nature of research in your game?

Research works a little differently in Remnant compared to other games. As with everything, research is done through colony programs. The first step to gaining access to a new technology is through theoretical research in a major field – physics for example. When that theoretical research program concludes, you’ll generally make a new discovery which unlocks a number of new programs in the form of applied research. You then need to start and complete an applied research program to unlock the actual benefit of your theoretical discovery. Each theoretical discovery could unlock one or more applied research programs, so your scientists will be plenty busy. Another twist is that certain programs are only available on specific world types: you may need the microgravity of an asteroid or plate tectonics that are only available on a volcanic world to make your breakthroughs.

Since it’s done at the colony level, you can have multiple research programs running concurrently across your entire empire. A program, of course, takes up one of your limited slots.  So unlocking new tech stunts the growth of your empire in other ways. You’ll have to balance your empire and make meaningful decisions every step of the way, instead of getting a little bit of everything every turn.

Outside of cities, will players be able to construct other fortifications such as bases, ports, observatories, etc.? If so, how will they affect play?

You can build static defenses in the form of weapon platforms to help defend or support your ships in a sector. Other situational structures, such as an early detection system, generally exist at the colony level and aren’t actual 3D objects you can interact with directly.

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Can you describe the basics of diplomacy in your game?

Diplomacy and relationships work at both the empire and agent levels. An agent acting as a diplomat is able to build a certain rapport with another faction that may benefit future negotiations. Likewise, an agent can build up their notoriety with an opponent too: if Picard leads too many raids against the Borg, the Borg in-turn will start specifically targeting Picard for assassination or refuse to negotiate with him. Captured agents can even be used as bargaining chips in diplomatic negotiations.

Overtly hostile actions affect your empire as a whole. Covert actions only affect you if you’re caught.

How much will players be able to customize their units, factions, and game maps in this game?

You can cosmetically customize every ship you own. The name, the markings, even the colors. Ships are designed with a specific use and counter through their weapon systems and tactical cooldowns, so for balance reasons, you cannot change the loadouts or design your own ships.

Can you can build your faction from scratch or tweak already existing ones?

The map itself, despite being only a single planetary system, is highly customizable at the start of the game. You can play in a huge system akin to our own solar system, a Jupiter-like scenario with a central gas giant and a dozen moons, or even a lone super-Earth with no other celestial body in sight.

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There was nothing random about this… We said hi and they died!

What role does randomness play in your game?

There’s very little inherent randomness in the game by design. Ship projectiles strike for exactly X damage on every impact. Colony programs never fail but yield varying results in varying amounts of time depending on the directing agent- all details of which are presented to you before you initiate the program, so there’s no guesswork. Game events are the only truly random happenings.
 
What does your game have/do that no other similar game currently on the market can provide?

Remnant knows what it wants to be and uniquely executes it. It isn’t trying to recreate MoO2 with a slight twist, or to reinvent every aspect of the genre all at once. It’s a combat-centric 4X with a focus on tactics and espionage with a deep roleplaying experience.

What do you hope to accomplish with your game? What do you hope people will remember most about it?

I hope to create something new and different, the kind of game that people daydream about at work or school because they’re excited to get home and continue their empire’s story.

Where does development of the game stand as of now?

Development is in a very healthy state. The majority of systems are inter-connected and working well together. There’s a lot of tweaking, balancing and polish that will be happening over the next three months in this final stretch. I’m also waiting on some new ship models that I’m excited to show off.

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Those are lovely indeed.

What has been the most challenging aspect of the game’s development so far?

The real challenge was trying to come up with something unique, but still interesting, systems that deviate from the traditional 4X model without straying so far off the path that it becomes a completely alien experience to veterans of the genre. I hope I’ve found a happy balance.

On what operating systems do you anticipate releasing your game?

We’ll be releasing on Steam for PC, Mac, and Linux.

When might it be available for people to start playing?

An Early Access launch will happen by early September at the latest.

Of all the aspects of your game, which are you the most excited about?

The personal narrative you build and the resulting emotional connection you make with your empire. You care about all of your agents and colonies because you’ve made meaningful decisions about their development. They have a personal identity and connection to you. You’ll feel joyous when you finally capture Agent Markim, the enemy spy who has eluded you all game. Crushed when the Executor falls in battle. Betrayed when Admiral Keegan defects after an illustrious career because of a series of crushing defeats. I’m ever so looking forward to all the little stories that players will tell about their game.

Before closing, is there anything else you’d like to tell the fans about your game or your company that we haven’t mentioned yet?

I’d like to thank every single person who has been here and supported Remnant through the three years of development hell, all the setbacks and ups-and-downs. The continued support has been extremely motivating and I’m deeply grateful.

Well, that was very informative and we here at eXplorminate are glad that Remnant is back and close to release. Well, Early Access, but that is still a huge step forward. Stay tuned because we’ll keep an eye on this one for sure.

22 replies »

  1. I’m excited to see where this game goes. In particular I’m happy to hear the agent system from Star Wars Rebellion and combat from Nexus: Jupiter Incident are both influences. I still play both of those games on occasion today and I think those systems will make for a fresh take on the 4x genre.

    Question for the dev: When agents gain experience/level up, how will that process work?

    Will it be like some RPGs where they hit X level of general experience then you pick where you want to increase their skill? (My admiral just gained XP from a battle, but I want him to be a little better of a diplomat so I invest a skill point in diplomacy)

    Or will they level their skills separately depending on what they are being assigned to do most often? (My scientist made a breakthrough and gained enough XP to level up that skill without me being able to redirect it elsewhere)

    I could see the former way offer some flexibility for the player in customizing their agents, but the latter system would feel more organic and could be a better fit.

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    • Agents generally gain attributes through the completion of programs. If you look at the “Planetary Exploration” example at the top of the article, you’ll see +5 Science is a reward for completion. So in general, if you want your admiral to become a better diplomat, they have to do diplomatic things. There is some overlap and bonuses across the spectrum though: a spy may need to have high science to accomplish a certain clandestine operation, or an administrator may need some tactics to crackdown on an uprising. So it’s better to think more in terms of “scientific agent” instead of “science agent”, if that makes sense

      They do gain a few small bonuses for other accomplishments though, as you’ve noted. Combat is probably the most obvious. They’ll also get a small boost across the board on level up.

      Hope that clears everything up. Thanks for your kind words and interest.

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  2. Whoa — that was quite a detailed and informative writeup of the game systems. I am intrigued – this game sounds right up my alley and a fresh take on the genre to boot.

    Backed. And the next time I pass by the turnoff to the Link, I’ll send a few good vibes across. ;)

    Apologies in advance for the momentary confusion that last sentence will cause if you’re not an East Coast Canuck.

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  3. This game is incredibly interesting. I cannot wait to see how it progresses. As soon as I heard Nexus, I lost it on the inside a bit. It also feels exactly like The Expanse universe, made into a narrative driven game.

    AND its being made by a Canadian? Backed. Keep up the awesome work. I’ll do my best to spread the word in the gaming circles I’m a part of.

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    • Not on initial release into early access but definitely before the full release in the future. I know that’ll be a little disappointing to hear, but I don’t want to half-ass support for it and right now it would take a lot of development focus away from the main game.

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  4. I’ve been keeping an eye out for this game for quite some time now, my initial interest was ignited by the idea of a single solar system 4X. This is something I’ve been hoping to encounter in a game for a multitude of reasons, and so I became aware of Remnant a few years ago.
    I’ll be honest, reading the interview… there were things that excited me, (for example the reference to Rebellion and roles of leaders) and other things that left me wondering how they will actually translate to a fun game experience. (lack of resources, no buildings, combat-centric system, etc.)

    I think the concept is phenomenal and can certainly bring a novel approach to the genre, I wish these guys all the best

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    • I totally understand your hesitation. It’s weird to see some core strategy game concepts being turned on their head. Keep an eye out for future gameplay videos coming by the end of July, hopefully I can sell you on the ideas I have going.

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  5. Can you talk a little bit about your philosophy toward AI difficulty / competency? I feel that many, if not most, 4X game developers, especially those developing more modern 4X games, struggle with creating competent AIs due in large part to the fact that they create games with many complex systems that today’s AI are not well equipped to handle. The modern Civilization games are some of the best examples of this. The modding community has done their best to make Civ AIs more competent by and large by instructing the AIs to prioritize certain build paths or limited strategies understood to be efficinet. In effect, limiting the AI choices because the AIs are not equipped to handle the level of flexibility required to navigate complex systems. Older 4X developers better understood this and created simpler systems that the AI could act competently within. I guess many modern 4X developers have decided that the purchasing biblical would rather have many complex systems instead of a competent AI capable of handling these systems well. Where do you fall on this spectrum?

    Yourchoice to limit the game to one solar system and eschew traditional resource management systems seems to be a step in the right direction in this regard, but at the same time you are introducing relatively novel systems such as 3D space flight and planetary motions simulating Keplers laws. What are you doing to make sure the game’s AI can handle these systems?

    Finally, since you seem to be a fan of strategy games yourself, what games do you think have the best, most competent AIs? For modern games, my top choice is definitely AI Wars. And I think the reason why that game has the best AI is not because of good coding or a powerful engine, butostly because of good game design choices. The developer for AI Wars is working on a sequel, by the way, which along with your upcoming game has great potential to hopefully shake up what I agree has been a fairly stale 4X and Grand Strategy game scene for the past several years.

    Thanks. And sorry for the long post.

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    • Not so much hesitation sir, it is just that I do not underestimate the task you have set before yourself. There will be no in-between with Remnant, If you pull this off, (and I sincerely hope you do), Remnant will be a masterpiece.

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    • No worries about the long post, I feed off of passion and enthusiasm, so I’m happy to try to tackle it.

      I feel there’s basically two schools of people when it comes to game AI: those who want a pure simulation and those who want an engaging experience. The pure simulation crowd wants the AI to behave exactly as a player would, with all the (limited) information that a player would have. A pure number-crunching machine that analyzes the game state, anticipates the next few turns and takes their actions. Then there’s the engaging experience crowd, who are fine with the AI cheating at every corner if the end result is more interesting gameplay. Both sides have their pros and cons. A pure simulation AI can be boring simply due to its human-like approach. We’ve all had those games where an AI is off in some isolated corner, racing towards a science victory and doing very little in the forms of interactions with the outside world. Likewise, the cheating AI can feel hollow when 8 units magically appear on your doorsteps.

      I personally tend to fall into the engaging experience crowd. I’d much rather play a game where the AI and I are interacting in meaningful ways, and often, instead of all of us racing towards our victory conditions. Having said that, I don’t enjoy AI that gets unreasonable amounts of bonuses just for being AI. So with Remnant, the goal is to create a fair AI that cheats with information, not resources, to set up a web of interactions throughout the game. Like you said, there’s a reason mods that force specific build orders are so popular: it creates engagement. No one enjoys playing against a boring AI, simulation purist or not.

      As for your concerns with the 3D flight and planetary motion, that’s actually one of the easier problems to solve. Pathfinding in big open spaces with a low amount of objects is relatively simple.

      Hope that helps clear things up.

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    • I like your post sir, and I too find myself wishing for a competent AI. In simple terms, the more functionalities and components in a game, the easier it is for a human player to find a min-max solution that totally cripples the AI. Perhaps then, older games weren’t so much a conscious decision (as regards the AI capabilities) but rather a product of the times.
      We players have grown and matured, we expect more decisions in-game, more expansive tech trees, etc. When an AI then spreads its efforts during a game, it is all too easy for a player to focus and excel in critical areas. Perhaps the Devs of Remnant have realized this then, and as such we have a more streamlined game. Either way, I’m a big fan of strategy games, not just 4X, I will be keeping a very close eye on this one

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  6. I’m not sure if you’re still checking this article or not, but if you are I am curious about how ships and ship combat will play out in Remnant.

    I think I remember reading somewhere that ships will have pre-defined roles rather than something players customize. This is honestly fine with me since I don’t think all 4x space games need ship customization to be successful. Could you tell us what kind of roles will be present in the game?

    Also, what kind of weapons will be involved? Lasers? Missiles? Fighters/bombers? I’m excited for the strategic layer of gameplay in Remnant but I’m curious about how things will play out tactically beyond the large hit point totals and long cool down special abilities you’ve already mentioned designed to ensure battles aren’t winner-take-all.

    On a side note, there is an explorminate forum thread dedicated to your game: https://steamcommunity.com/groups/explorminate/discussions/0/3307213006831466673/

    Just thought I’d mention it as a place you may want to stop by and say hi in from time to time. Other indie devs do so on occasion and it drives a lot of community engagement with games being actively developed.

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    • Sorry for the delayed response.

      There’s three primary weapon systems in Remnant: beams, kinetic projectiles and missiles. Beams require close range and do high damage, kinetic projectiles have a wider range and lower damage, and missiles are effective at basically any range and deal high damage but can be intercepted by point-defence systems. There’s also a few defensive systems too, jamming and flares and whatnot, to give you more options. So there’s not really “roles” like tank, healer and DPS or something like that — but fielding variety of ships presents a more robust force that can cross-support one another.

      There are no fighters or bombers currently. The realistic forces make them pretty boring compared to Star Wars. It’s not 100% ruled out. Currently playing around with the idea of using drones instead. I know how much everyone, myself included, loves the idea of carriers.

      I’ll be putting together a video overview of the combat by early August at the latest. I’m still waiting on the Kickstarter money to buy the recording equipment and there’s quite a few lingering UI issues to sort out before publicly displaying it. If you’re at all familiar with Nexus: The Jupiter Incident, you can picture something similar but slightly simplified and straight forward, with tactical powers to offer “fire and forget” options instead of having to micromanage every little detail.

      Thanks for the heads up on the Steam thread. I’ll definitely check in.

      Appreciate you taking the time. Let me know if I wasn’t clear with something.

      Like

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