Reflections From the Middle of The Last Story

I haven’t finished The Last Story; in a way, I hope I never do. This isn’t necessarily a rare thing for me to feel when playing a great game, but it is a rare thing for me to feel about a game’s narrative. It’s even more rare to feel that way toward a game that features, for lack of a better term, “conventional gamey storytelling,” a phrase which here means “a game where one plays for a bit, puts the controller down to watch a cutscene, then plays some more.”

And yet this is the real magic of The Last Story — the effortless way in which it cements the importance and, indeed, nobility of things we thought we outgrew, or at the very least were sick of. Things like cutscenes, yes, but also things like stories about destiny and forbidden romance; things like pirate ships and castles and wicked kings and noble knights; things like princesses who are fed up with their boring lives of royalty, and hidden caves filled with frightening creatures; things like mystical forests and fiery volcanoes and villages full of simple folk who want nothing more than to sell you shields and potions. Things that have been slightly rehashed and moderately relabeled ad nauseum in every Final Fantasy game you’ve played in the past seven years, but which are presented here in The Last Story with an essential ingredient that has been missing in nearly all of them: sincerity. Never mind that the storytelling present here is genuinely good, the performances are genuinely dedicated and the art direction is genuinely some of the best you’ll see this year.

The comparisons to Final Fantasy are inevitable seeing as the game was directed by the man who invented the series, but Hironobu Sakaguchi (who has now left the series to work on original games with his new company, Mistwalker) should be proud to be one of mainstream gaming’s few creators who possess a truly distinctive style. We see his hand in the art direction, which is a perfect expression of Sakaguchi’s love of Medieval architecture, here mostly unmarred by the tired trope of steampunk; we see his hand in the characters, whose personalities are immediately apparent, yet whose motives are ambiguous enough that we want to get to know them better; and we see his hand in the story itself, which (again, in contrast to the current, Sakaguchi-less Final Fantasy) thankfully cares more about charming us with its characters and astounding us with its imagination that it does boring us with pointless mythology that we will forget by the end of the game.

Yes, The Last Story spins a good old-fashioned yarn about a band of mercenaries who go on spectacular adventures in which mysterious islands are explored, pirates are fought, treasures are plundered, sick children are cured, and princesses are saved; but even if you didn’t grow up obsessed with Treasure Island and The Legend of Zelda and therefore aren’t a total sucker for fantastical adventure stories like I am, it’s nearly impossible not to be impressed by the sheer innovation of the gameplay itself. RPGs have long featured team-based battles, but rarely have they actually felt like teamwork, so much as they often feel like I press a bunch of buttons on a bunch of menus to make a bunch of people do a bunch of stuff.

In The Last Story, you only control one member of your party (Zael–yes, silly names are present and accounted for) yet you must rely on everyone in it. You are just a…well, a role player in this team, but as a result of actually having to rely that team instead of directly controlling their every move, you end up caring about them, even respecting them more ; in effect, the times where you are in fact able to give orders to your team-mates are more exciting due to their relative rarity.

This is an accomplishment. I’ve often felt a disconnect in RPGs in which the story tells me I’m supposedly an innocent underdog, yet behind the controller I’m a godlike presence controlling the decisions of not only my avatar but everyone around him. It just doesn’t feel true. It’s like in Grant Theft Auto IV where Niko’s cousin tells him “We’re broke!” and yet we look up at the top of the screen and see we’ve amassed several hundred thousand dollars from our dirty work. In The Last Story I have found no such disconnects, and if they’re there, I’ll happily ignore them. There is no such thing as a perfect game; it’s just that some are better at distracting us from their flaws.

I’ve set the game on the shelf for now, but not for a lack of interest or boredom; I’m savoring the experience. I’m waiting for a rainy day to come along, or a sleepless night, where I can curl up on the couch and be swept up in more of the gang’s adventures; reminded of the times when I’d stay up all night with my favorite book, immersed in the escapades of pirates or knights. The Last Story, of course, is not the last story, but it is the first game story in a very long time that I’ve cared about.

Watching the Minutemen Part 1: Eight Minutes

“For the sake of honor I did sacrifice my soul
For the sake of vengeance I did struggle to regain it.”
–The Crimson Corsair: Minutemen #1

Join Jacob Crites as he reads too deeply into every issue of Before Watchmen: Minutemen. The following is part one of a six part series.

There are people who will never like Before Watchmen simply because it exists. If you’ve ever read Watchmen, you know that this viewpoint is not entirely unreasonable. There was no more story to be told by the end of Alan Moore’s masterwork; he, along with artist David Gibbons, had challenged and redefined an entire art form with their unparalleled mastery of the comic medium. And it also, even stripped of its technical brilliance, is still a really incredible story with characters that leave a lasting imprint somewhere in the deep pit of your being.

But you know all this already. You know why it shouldn’t be done. And you know why DC did it anyway. What none of us knew is just how incredibly well such a seemingly horrific idea could turn out.

Things immediately feel different than the original Watchmen, both in tone and in style, and this is important. For one, consider the contrast in entry points: we were introduced to Watchmen‘s world through Rorschach, an enigmatic, mentally unstable masked vigilante who was unmistakably and tragically the result of the dark, corrupted world around him. In Minutemen, the story is told through the eyes of Hollis Mason, by all accounts the most good-hearted man we know of in the Watchmen universe, and one of the world’s original masked vigilantes: Night Owl. We know Hollis a little from reading excerpts from his tell-all book, Under the Hood, in the original Watchmen series, but here we see his unabashedly old-school idealism and optimism first hand.

But, of course, it’s not that simple. With Watchmen it never is. Through flashbacks, he looks back on his crime-fighting years with nostalgia, and he regrets that he can’t take the rose-tinted glasses off. For despite the good he sees in what the Minutemen did, who the Minutemen were, he understands with overwhelming clarity that the actions that he and his fellow masked “heroes” had made had helped shape a corrupt and twisted present with a future almost certainly doomed to implosion.

“Over the months it took me to complete [Under the Hood], I found the act of writing seemed to purge me of the darker aspects of my secret life,” he says, “as if I trapped all of it in a bottle I could now toss into the surf. Lately, when I think of those times, the dark parts fall farther and farther away from my limited line of sight. From down here on earth, I can only see what I want to see. From here in my empty apartment I can only see the good.

But he doesn’t mean it. Not entirely. Least of all when referring to himself. He speaks of his former comrades Byron (Moth Man) and Ursula (The Silhouette) with love and admiration, even after the tabloids had trampled their reputations and left them to die; but he speaks of himself with a level of skepticism and unease he reserves for no one else but The Comedian. For Mason is unconvinced that his own heroics should be labeled as such. In a way, despite his nostalgia, he speaks of his years as Nite Owl with a tinge of regret:

“I knew I wanted to do good, and I’m pretty sure that, on a community level, that’s just what I did. But that didn’t explain what I was doing. There are all kinds of sane ways to help your community that don’t involve a mask and short pants. When it came right down to it, I did it for the thrills. For the excitement of putting myself on the line.”

And so through this conflicted character Minutemen becomes a fascinating book: one in which we watch a good man become a part of a thing we know he has no chance of stopping from inevitably spiraling out of control; and in which we see that same man, now, wondering whether or not it would have been worth stopping anyway.

If you didn’t already consider Darwyn Cooke to be one of the most talented artists in modern comics, start paying attention. The man, in addition to his expressive and beautiful artwork, effortlessly deepens and humanizes these characters within mere pages of a single issue. Throughout the piece he has the unenviable task of introducing no less than eight masked vigilantes, and still manages to imbue them each with a level of depth unseen in most series.

Yet although containing the unmistakable undercurrent of tragedy that Watchmen is known for, as mentioned earlier, there is a palpable sense that something is different. Part of what that something is, in addition to our entry into the comic’s world, is enthusiasm. Color. Joy, however fleeting.

Watchmen has been called, amongst many things, a comic about comics, so it’s appropriate that its prequel should highlight the colorful exuberance and optimism of the Golden Age of Comics. In the costumes, framing of action and dialogue, Cooke captures the bright-eyed innocence of early super hero tales, best of all during a depiction of a pre-picture advertisement about the “superhero” Dollar Bill, a corporate mascot of the National Bank Company.

But Cooke wisely never veers into the territory of pure comic-book silliness. Even at its most colorful, thanks to Hollis, the Minutemen are always viewed with the not-so-slight air of cynicism. Dollar Bill, despite his colorful costume, is a corporate sham. The Silk Spectre, with the help of her acting agent, fakes elaborate crimes for her to “fight” for the sake of publicity.

But for a minute in time, it didn’t matter. They had fun, were adored, had toy lines, starred in movies. They had a sort of vigor and cheeriness about their crime-fighting that their eventual replacements, the Watchmen, never had a shot at attaining. Maybe that’s what feels different: in the world of Watchmen, it was already too late; the world was a dark place through and through and there was no turning back. Minutemen takes place during a blip in time where masked vigilantes could fight crime, be celebrities and inspire their country without fearing the consequences.

It wouldn’t last long.

Pigs, They Tend to Wiggle When They Walk: My Life As A Teenaged Pavement Fan

Noiseless Chatter Advisory: Ben, of Ben Likes Music, likes music. He also wrote this, and hopefully more in the future. Please give a big welcome to our latest guest author. Or call him obscene things. It’s really up to you.

It only occurred to me relatively recently that the word fan was just a shortened version of fanatic. I’m 34 years old. Understandably, a lot of you reading this may have just snorted your Starbucks out of your nose at my incredible naivety, but so be it. When it comes to Pavement however, I do believe that I am indeed more of a fanatic than a fan. A fan – in my short-sighted eyes that are well into their fourth decade – is someone who has a passing interest in something; someone who will wave from the touchlines and not really care too much what is going on. A fanatic however, is someone like me. Someone who scours record stores and internet auction sites for an EP from 1989 and pays way over the odds for a record that has a B-side that has a slightly different mix to what was on the re-release 20 years later. That, my friends, is a fanatic.

Firstly, I must thank my good friend Mat Hurley. Not exactly the most inflated of name checks I’m sure you’ll agree, but one of my best friends who I have known for over thirty years is the person who is to blame/thank for my love of this band. In 1992, when a Sony Walkman was still considered the height of technology, he passed me over a tape (a tape!) of a band called Pavement. This tape was called Slanted and Enchanted which he had recently purchased from the only independent record store within a 30 mile radius of our homes. I had learned to trust him simply due to the fact that a week before, he had passed me an album by a band called Pixies entitled Doolittle which I had pretty much been playing non-stop on my walk home from school that entire week. I’ve never known what became of them.

To me, Slanted… was a grower. I listened to the first few tracks and thought “Meh…” (and this, ladies and gentlemen was a good 10 years before ‘meh’ was even invented). “Summer Babe” left me intrigued, but not inspired but I listened on. I finally got to track five, which was called “Conduit For Sale.” Never before had I heard anything so raw, so energised and it had me hooked immediately. I must have pressed rewind a dozen times before even getting to “Zurich Is Stained,” which was a mistake in itself given its obvious greatness in comparison. Twenty years on, and I realise that “Conduit…” is an obvious rip-off *ahem* I mean, homage to a song by The Fall – namely “New Face In Hell” should you wish to check my credentials as a music analyst – go ahead and compare and contrast. But still, a grower is a grower and now almost 20 years to the day since my ears were introduced to this lo-fi racket straight outta California it still sits there, proudly awaiting a further outing into my eardrums and it has certainly stood the test of time.

Little did I know when Slanted… was released, that only a month before, Pavement had released an album of bits and bobbins from their prior EPs; at least they had in the UK. It was called Westing (By Musket and Sextant) and was choc-full of ridiculous oddities – many under two minutes long – consisting of 90% feedback and 10% melody and all played in a ludicrous fashion. It might not sound particularly attractive to an outsider, but I lapped it up. Given that for the previous few years I had been listening to the relatively polished production of albums by bands such as The Stone Roses and Ned’s Atomic Dustbin, this was a breath of fresh, lackadaisical air. On Westing… Pavement stumble and fumble their way through tracks that wouldn’t even be considered a D-sides by other bands and yet I and their now considerable fan base wouldn’t have it any other way. Listening to these songs now, it is obvious that they could be better rendered in a decent studio but they would lose all of their lustre and excitement if that were the case. I still challenge anyone to give me a complete set of lyrics to “Forklift” and even if they did I challenge them further to make any sense of them. I offer my brother in return; he’s very friendly and makes a mean Chicken Tikka Massala.

Then I have a little confession to make, Faith No More released Angel Dust and I was under their spell for quite some time. Even when the next Pavement record – Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain came out in February 1994, I was still wandering around the halls of my school murmuring the guttural lyrics to “Mid-Life Crisis” and although I purchased it the second it came out, it barely came out of its plastic sleeve until Messrs Patton, Bordin, Gould, Martin and (tee-hee) Bottum descended into obscurity and started sacking and hiring guitarists willy-nilly.

So once I gave it a listen, I was horrified. What was this seemingly well produced bunch of songs from the kings of lo-fi? Granted it was never going to challenge Vangelis or Mike Oldfield for over-production but this was such a departure from Slanted… – how was this going to work? Essentially, it didn’t. To this day, I have never been able to get into their sophomore record proper. The songs, had they been recorded in the style of Slanted… or Westing… or somewhere in between would no doubt have been world-beaters, but there was something that didn’t feel quite right. Even though I’d been unfaithful to them by ploughing through three copies of Angel Dust in the intervening 18 months, I still felt no guilt or remorse. Are they the same things? Feel free to clear that up by emailing me and hurling abuse at me.

So that was that? No, of course not; silly me; Pavement was just about to unleash their greatest record on the listening public. As I had grown out of receiving chocolate eggs with a jigsaw puzzle inside for Easter, I had asked my mother to accompany me to my local record shop and purchase Wowee Zowee instead. I looked at the track listing and the first thing that occurred to me was the number of short songs on there. Over half of the songs were under two and a half minutes and I couldn’t have been more thrilled. I literally pushed my mother back towards the car and because this was 1995 hadn’t quite hit me that our Ford Escort wasn’t equipped with the CD player that was required for me to listen to it as soon as I’d hoped. Forty-five minutes later however, I was reunited with my Sony Discman, popped the CD in and listened intently. Expecting unrelenting, dirty guitar noise, ‘We Dance’ came as a bit of a surprise as an opening track but not an unpleasant one.

“There is no…cas-tra-tion fear…”

Well, thank heavens I couldn’t play it to my mother in car, otherwise that would already have raised a whole lot of questions. She was still recovering from the time when she insisted that I played Carter USM’s Post Historic Monsters at my brother’s 7th birthday party because “…he might like the dinosaur on the cover.”

Wowee Zowee became, and still remains my favorite album by the band so I was of course ecstatic when I found out they were playing the Reading Festival that summer. Finally I would get a chance to see my favorite band perform my favorite album. I’d see Spiral (Scott to his mother) rip through the awesome guitar solo in “Rattled By The Rush” and Bob scream his way through “Serpentine Pad” – oh how awesome this was going to be. But on that balmy summer’s night in Berkshire, things didn’t go according to plan. Pavement had a shocker – sound problems and power cuts meant that despite being fairly close to the front, I barely heard a thing. The band didn’t seem too put off and still hurtled around the stage hitting whatever they could with sticks to make as much noise as possible but my first and sadly only time I would see Pavement turned out to be a bit of a damp squib.

In 1997, some eighteen months after the festival debacle, I was still playing Wowee Zowee pretty much every day. I had entered the world of work and could be found late at night stacking shelves at my local supermarket, air-guitarring and drumming around the aisles after finding an elastic band, wrapping it around the PA system so it was permanently stuck in the broadcast position and playing the CD to an empty shop aside from a few other shelf monkeys such as myself. Great, if not slightly strange times; there’s only so much pleasure you can get from belting out “Flux = Rad” with an armful of tinned sweetcorn.

“If the signatures are checked (you’ll just have to wait!)” heralded the entrance of 1997’s Brighten The Corners. It also heralded the time where I had taken to looking as much like Steve Malkmus as was possible; whether it was on purpose I really can’t remember but my hair was now at its floppiest and my clothes had attained a thrift store vibe. Pavement videos were now being shown on MTV2 – this of course being in the days that MTV2 and MTV in general used to actually be quite good. That all seemed to change when Korn, Limp Bizkit and that godawful band with a man called Chester Bennington started to infiltrate the alternative scene. Swines.

Brighten The Corners seemed to straddle the stripped-down production of Wowee Zowee and the slightly too glossy Crooked Rain… but it seemed to work. The fact that the length of the album was close to that of its predecessor and yet contained half a dozen fewer tracks didn’t bode too well for me. Where were the killer 2 minute songs? Certainly not here – only one song under 3 minutes in fact!

On first listen, it was Spiral Stairs’ two offerings that were the stand out for me. “Date with IKEA” was pure Pavement; slightly out-of-tune harmonising, dirty bass and guitar sounds and this was definitely a tune that only Stairs could carry off. You know when I said that Slanted and Enchanted was a “grower” about 5 minutes ago? Well disregard that completely. If there ever was a Pavement album that could be classed as a “grower” then it is Brighten The Corners. The benefit of hindsight is a wonderful thing. I would play it occasionally, but would still be playing the older albums more readily; so much so in fact that I only really deemed it as a great album just before its follow up – Pavement’s final album – Terror Twilight was released.

Given that the title of this article (oh, who am I kidding? Essay) proclaims that I was a teenager at the time all this was happening means I should really stop now. “YES! PLEASE!!!” I hear you say. But just hear me out. Pavement’s last was released shortly after my 21st Birthday in June 1999. By this time I had moved away from the South Wales Valleys and was now living with my soon-to-be fiancée in a flat on an estate in London. I had a job making price lists for perfume counters in department stores. I had shaved off my Malkmus hair due to the fact that it had started falling out of its own accord. In short, I had changed. I had discovered a new record label that seemed to be able to do no wrong. Polyvinyl Records was home to Mates of State, Aloha and Rainer Maria amongst many other amazing bands. Pavement had taken a back seat and Terror Twilight didn’t get the recognition at the time that it truly deserves today.

It’s not exactly a sad end to the story. I still love Pavement and I always will, but during my teenage years there was nothing that could touch them. If they hadn’t had recorded and released Crooked Rain in the way that they did and at the time that they did then it could only be described as a faultless discography. The special re-packaged, unseen material style re-releases have all been bought, MP3d and added to an iPod that is now 32,000 songs strong; 300 of which are by Pavement.

There you go – that’s 10 years of my life being obsessed with a band from Stockton, CA summed up in one handy bite-sized (2000 word) essay. I’ll leave you with my favorite lyric by Malkmus and Co.

“Show me a word that rhymes with Pavement and I won’t kill your parents and roast them on a spit.”


Video Games as Video Games: New Super Mario Bros. 2

Philip’s Note: Please welcome Jacob Crites to the Noiseless Chatter team. He’s going to provide some great articles to carry you through the times when I’m not posting meandering, unfocused bullshit. I hope you don’t mind.

New Super Mario Bros. 2 is the best 2D Mario game since Super Mario World. I’d say it was better, but my nostalgia won’t let me. That’s the thing when it comes to comparing and contrasting Mario games — nostalgia. The ones that mean the most to us are typically the ones that came during formative years in our lives.

Super Mario World, for example, was the first video game I ever played; not surprisingly, it’s also my favorite. Because, for a lot of us, Mario was our Mickey Mouse — Mario was the embodiment of youthful optimism and sprightliness that was missing from our cynical, assembly-line cartoons; as a result, the thought of any game being “better” than those formative, child-hood-defining games, be it Super Mario Bros. 3, Super Mario World, or Super Mario 64, is ridiculous.

But take those childhood favorites off the pedestals we’ve placed them on and look at them for what they really are — brilliant, creative platformers with hearts of solid gold — and it’s plain to see that New Super Mario Bros. 2 is every bit as good, if not quite able to overtake those special corners of our heart.

Where most major franchises are striving to imitate Hollywood and take notes from the language of film, Mario’s games feel more like ballet. There is less a story here than there is the suggestion of one; our emotional attachment to the character springs not from dialogue but from the grace of movement, form and balance in association with vivid musical compositions. The music informs the movement, the movement informs the level design, and so on; each individual element crafted with what must be exhaustive meticulousness to tie into a larger whole. When combined with brightly colored, vivid stereoscopic visuals that make you feel like you’re staring at a magical shoebox diorama come to life, New Super Mario Bros. 2 becomes something quite special: a video game that knows it’s a video game, that likes the fact that it’s a video game, that joyfully uses and expands upon the language of video games. When one attempts to explain what makes pressing a series of buttons that causes a virtual Italian man to jump on fishes with bright, golden trails of coins trailing from their butts fun, one has realized how indescribably different this medium can be from any other when it rejects Hollywood and embraces its gamey-ness.

New Super Mario Bros. 2 also has fully embraced its formula, which may not be as bad a thing as you think. The game has been accused as being formulaic, which I find to be an odd thing to accuse a Mario game of being. It is the universal familiarity with the Mario formula that allows the game to play with our expectations and surprise us just when we think we’ve slipped into a groove — the surprise, this time around, being that coins actually matter. A lot.

Your unofficial goal is to collect a million of the things, and this idea alone brings with it a myriad of potential issues that Nintendo masterfully sidesteps. Namely: how do you create a game based on collecting things without it turning into a collect-a-thon? The trick, Nintendo shows us, is to make the collecting a natural extension of the platforming experience, rather than a bland, Easter-egg-hunt-like distraction.

A new fire-flower variation, for example, causes Mario to shoot a projectile that turns whatever it hits into a sparkling explosion of coins; passing through bright, golden rings will cause every enemy on the screen to leave a shiny golden trail of coins behind them. All of this could have ended up looking disastrous and chaotic, from a purely aesthetic standpoint, but what elevates the game into something of a masterpiece is how gorgeously fluid and downright symmetrical Nintendo makes it all look. Seeing a sea of fish leaping out of the water in perfectly synchronized alternating patterns with shimmering strings of gold trailing behind them is was of the more astonishingly surreal sights I’ve seen in a game all year…until I got to the next level and Nintendo found an even more wonderful way to surprise me.

A screenshot or Youtube video can’t do these moments justice; in fact, New Super Mario Bros. 2 is a strong argument against antiquated reviewing systems that assign individual scores to Gameplay, Graphics and Sound. Because here, once again, each element relies on and informs the other, and it is only by working in tandem that the game is able to achieve such visceral pleasure.

It would have been easy, I think, with this goal of collecting one million coins, to inadvertently turn Mario into a greedy punk like his brother(?) Wario; and yet this, too, Nintendo has sidestepped. Mario isn’t tasked with collecting a million big ones to buy something, or to unlock some expensive reward; but rather because…well, collecting all those sparkly coins is kinda fun. And that’s the real accomplishment of this game: Fun.

New Super Mario Bros. 2 is a game full of artistry and masterful craftsmanship, but the only thing it really wants to do is entertain us. To put a smile on our face.

When I play these games, I’m reminded of classic Disney Mickey Mouse cartoons; Walt would construct these stories on big moving steamboats or massive clocks that required insanely complicated animation…and that was the point. Walt Disney understood that animation worked best when it concentrated on, well, animating — which is to say, movement. The more complicated it was, as long as it contained charming, loveable characters, the more fun it was to watch. The physical humor found in early Mickey Mouse cartoons is still second to none, and it could have only be done in that medium.

Mario has been likened to the Mickey Mouse of the video game world, and it’s a comparison he’s earned. Mario’s games come from a good place; they encompass a child-like sense of wonder that no other developer has been able to surpass, because no other developer is willing to try quite so hard to make us smile.

New Super Mario Bros. 2 doesn’t try to redefine the medium, and it shouldn’t have to; it’s perfectly content to remind us of why it makes it so great.

Mourning the Loss of Mourning

Just a relatively quick note to let you know that I’ve got a guest post up at Dead Homer Society, a site that is far more intelligent than it has any right to be when discussing modern day Simpsons episodes. So check it out. It’s called Mourning the Loss of Mourning, and it’s guaranteed to be a laugh and a half. Or a vaguely emotional personal reflection on some genuinely touching moments of a show long dead. EITHER ONE WORKS.

I’ve also got some great site news that’ll be coming in the near future, so stay tuned for that, and another Noiseless Chatter Spotlight going up tomorrow. It’s a reworked piece from my Noise to Signal days, but being as that essay, and a few others I did around that time, were direct forerunners to what I’d like to accomplish with the Spotlight series, it is perfectly acceptable for me to do this and if you argue I will quite literally gut your dog.

So, that’s happening.

But seriously, go read that post. It’s destined to be the shittiest one on their entire site, so read a lot more while you’re there. I heartily endorse their event or product.

And finally, friend of the website David Black wrote a piece on Alan Partridge and the current state of British television for Cult Brittania, and it’s rightfully lighting the internet on fire as it’s fucking fantastic. Therefore I’m glad to do my part to keep it circulating by INSISTING THAT YOU READ IT NOW.