The Humble Indie Bundle 4 Becomes the Fastest Selling Bundle

With great fanfare and much adulation, the Humble Indie Bundle 4 (not exactly the fourth, technically speaking) has been released. It contained the exact games (plus an addition) that we had talked about in our earlier post. Great happiness, since I was looking forward to playing many of the games in that list, beginning with Gratuitous Space Battles and Shank. (The other games in the bundle are Super Meat Boy, BIT.TRIP RUNNER, Jamestown, NightSky HD and Cave Story+)

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The bundle is also the first to break the one million dollar mark in a mere twenty four hours. A feat that few mainstream games manage to do. For this, Jeffrey Rosen and his Humble team need to be applauded.

However, it must be known that the average purchase of Windows users, by far the biggest share of the Bundle buyers is abysmally low at $4.70, meaning most of us (yes, you and I both) did not think that these five games are worth even a dollar apiece. Maybe some people buy the bundle at the average rate once, and buy it for pennies to gift to others, or maybe they do not think indie games are worth more than that. Either way, it is rather disheartening to see the abysmal rates from Windows users.

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However the makers of the Bundle have made an effort to increase the spending by allowing two bonus games to be unlocked only if the purchase is above the average. The bonus games are Gratuitous Space Battles and Cave Story +. In my humble opinion, this is one of the best Bundles in a long while, and those two bonus games seal this brilliant game. I urge you all to spend more than the average to get your Bundles!

PS3 Firmware Update 4.00 Removes Support for the PSP. Oh Dear.

I have this theory that in the Tokyo headquarters of Sony Entertainment Corporation, a Gríma Wormtongue-like figure ominously whispers and fills in the ears of Kaz Hirai, who is reclining like King Theoden. (If you do not understand what I am talking about, then you really must read The Lord of the Rings. Please do so immediately!) Otherwise there is no explanation as to why some of the best features of the PlayStation 3 (PS3) console have been serially diluted over the years. The original PS3 was a brilliant console with backwards compatibility and hardware emulation for PS2 and older consoles, along with the ability to install a custom OS (Linux, to be precise) and connect a PlayStation Portable (PSP) and transfer compatible games to it. In the next sub-iteration of the PS3, called the PS3 Slim, the hardware emulation was replaced by software, and eventually a firmware update permanently removed the ability to install Linux on the system.

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Now, it seems that firmware update 4.00 adds support for the PS Vita (due to be released on December 17th in Japan and parts of Asia) and, surprisingly, removes support for the legacy PSP.

Shacknews reports that the glitch(we are giving Sony the benefit of doubt here) removes the Copy function of every compatible game from the Xross Media Bar (XMB, the UI of the PS3 and the PSP) on the PS3’s screen, effectively disallowing the copying of a legally downloaded game on to a legally allowed secondary platform.

We await more news on this, but I really hope for Sony’s sake that it’s a glitch and not a feature.

CD Projekt RED Demands Hefty Payment from Pirates of The Witcher 2

Wow, a piece of not-so-good-actually news about CD Projekt RED (CDPR). That is something you usually do not get to read around the internet, much less from Techie Buzz (and indeed from me, the self-confessed Witcher fanboy). But apparently, CDPR has been showing an angelic we really care for that small group of legitimate gamers more than pirates or piracyside to the world, while pursuing shakedown procedures against those who had allegedly pirated the game.

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The developers of The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings, one of the most highly anticipated role playing game sequels to be released this year, claimed that the number of torrent downloads of The Witcher 2 had exceeded 4.5 million, but their concern was with the removal of draconian DRM schemes that hindered their legitimate customers from having a good experience of the game. In the words of CDPR CEO Marcin Iwinski:-

In any case, I am not saying that we have eliminated piracy or there is not piracy in the case of TW2. There is, and TW2 was [illegally] downloaded by tens of thousands of people during the first two weeks after release. Still, DRM does not work and however you would protect it, it will be cracked in no time. Plus, the DRM itself is a pain for your legal gamers this group of honest people, who decided that your game was worth the 50 USD or Euro and went and bought it. Why would you want to make their lives more difficult?

The game was also released on GOG.com, CD Projekt’s classic game digital distribution service, with much fanfare and the promise of no DRM. All this seemed to indicate that the company was genuinely concerned with its small set of legit customers. However, it seems that CDPR had a sinister plan of making some pirates cough up exorbitant amounts, or threatening to sue them to infinity and beyond.

The CEO told TorrentFreak earlier that the company will be using torrent sneaking companies and legal firms to track down pirates of the game and make them pay the unbelievably high sum of €911.80 (about $1187). Apparently this has already begun in many parts of Germany and also comes with the collateral of people whose IPs had torrented the game, but the owner of the IP had never heard of such a game mostly because of the concept of WiFi piggybacking, which is something these law firms have never heard of, apparently.

While we all condone piracy, we must remember that these are not the kind of measures that would stop piracy. Indeed, there is nothing in the world that can stop piracy; if a consumer software costs money, someone somewhere is already pirating it for the masses.

These vile measures from a company whose policies I have come to respect are definitely not in keeping with their reputation. CD Projekt RED must stop this nonsense at once and at least demand the price of the game during release, if not anything else.

Probable List of Humble Indie Bundle 4 Games Leaked!

The extremely popular pay-what-you-want Humble Indie Bundle series of indie game sales has been a joyride for many who wish to play the cream of the cool when it comes to indie gaming. Over the past few bundles, great games such as Braid, Machinarium, Defcon, and Frozen Synapse have been part of this excellent platform. It’s so good that many folks anticipate the next bundle with keen interest, looking to know the lineup days or months ahead of time. Whether this is to hold off on purchases of these indie games for their full price or   for the mere sating of curiosity is debatable.

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Nevertheless, many enterprising gamers on /r/IndieGaming found out the probable lineup of the next Humble Indie Bundle through the Steam Registry keys. The original source of the information is very probably NeoGAF, since the community there has done this sort of thing before with the bundles, with great success.

So what is the probable lineup of the next HIB?

  • Shank: Klei Entertainment’s beat em up sports a lovely comic-bookish art style of a man out for revenge. The story is written by God of War co-creator Marianne Krawczyk who really likes revenge stories, apparently. I am personally not sure about this one since the game was published by the behemoth of a non-indie publisher called Electronic Arts, but let’s see.
  • BIT.TRIP RUNNER: If you have never played a BIT.TRIP game yet, I sincerely suggest that you start with this. The games are designed to work with the background music in such a way that the obstacles and enemies in your way follow the beats and rhythm in the background. BIT.TRIP RUNNER is a solid game in the series. Mucho fun!
  • Jamestown: Mix a top-down shooter, steampunk, Mars colonization and the 17th century with pixelated graphics and you get Jamestown. It’s better than it sounds (and it sounds good!)
  • Gratuitous Space Battles: This is one game I personally am looking forward to playing, regardless of the Humble Bundle’s sale. It’s a space battle simulator in which you plan the battles before they happen (predicting the AI’s moves ahead of time) and let the entire thing unfold in front of you.
  • Cave Story +: Cave Story is the original indie runaway hit, with ports being developed on every system possible. The innocuous platformer has made thousands of fans and has now been rewritten and upgraded for the PC.

This gorgeous lineup practically makes me scream TAKE MY MONEY!, but we have to wait and see how it turns out!

Indie Royale Opens Up Preorder Model

Fans of the Humble Indie Bundle as well as indie digital distribution platform Desura will know of the Indie Royale Bundle the set minimum price pay-what-you-want bundle that set the indie world on fire akin to the first Humble Indie Bundle. Selling about 70,000 bundles (350,000 games with 5 games in each bundle), the developers pushed some fairly known and other little known games both recent and old back into the limelight. This obviously had its own brand of little technical hiccups such as Steam keys not being generated for most of the bundles initially as well as the servers being swamped with connection requests that resulted in many people missing that key minimum price at the start of the bundle (it starts with a price of $2.99).

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In lieu of this smoldering server scrape, the makers of the Bundle have come up with a preorder model for those who are impatient and really want to get their paws on the great deal (It also works well for those of us who will not be near an internet device when the bundle launches to get the minimum price). You can preorder the next bundle here for $3.99, but you will not know the contents of the bundle until the minute of release.

While this sounds like a pretty decent deal (being just $1 dearer than the launch minimum), the fact that you will not know the what games are part of the bundle is rather silly. Sure, it seems like a sweet gift that you gave yourself a few days ago when it contains 5 hitherto unknown games (to you, at least), but if it contains 5 games which you have purchased on other platforms, it does seem rather silly. On top of that, the only guaranteed OS that these games will run is Windows, with some games having Mac/Linux support and some without.

Nevertheless, I am always up for indie games so I did put in that preorder. Tell us what you think in the comments!

To The Moon: A Review

While it does seem like I go gaga over every video game I have ever played (there are notable exceptions such as Prototype; that was a lousy game) To The Moon evokes this strange warm feeling reserved for a wonderfully narrated book, and on occasion, a lovely artsy movie in which Jim Carrey plays a serious role. Yes, To The Moon reminds me strongly of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind more than, say, Memento (whose influence is also reminiscent in this video game) and I will tell you why.

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To The Moon is an example of how a video game does not necessarily need to be graphically impressive, or stylish, or violent or anything of that sort. It’s an essay on why video games must be considered an art form. It’s a story of a dying man, John, and his last wish. In the future technology to alter memories and experiences exists and two doctors, Dr. Neil Watts and Dr. Eva Rosaline who are alternatingly the player controlled characters work for a firm that grants dying men and women their last wishes. The two doctors traverse through the memory of every patient and at a particular moment initiate a key driving thought that changes their life (in their memories). Of course, none of this is real, but for a dying man it does not matter, for he is very happy to have lived through his dream.

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The problem with John is that he really does not know why he wishes to go to the moon. As Drs. Watts and Rosaline traverse through his memories in reverse (from an old man to a teenager), they find that there are no impulses to go to the moon except towards the end, and that too quite randomly. Interconnected through his entire memory is his wife, River, who suffers from a mental condition that is hinted-at but never quite explained throughout the game. This came off as letting the player fill details in as he or she sees fit, and not spoonfeeding the entire story.

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The gameplay itself is quite simple, with the player characters walking around and collecting small pieces of memories (visualized as colored orbs) that unlock a very strong memento that links to an earlier memory to which they can jump.   The memento needs to be prepared’, which is a simple tile-switching mini-game that is no more than a minor annoyance to further the story. Some small mini-games pop up here and there (with a tongue-in-cheek reference to both Plants vs. Zombies, because the musician involved in PvZ was also involved in the making of this game, as well as traditional Japanese RPGs) but for the main part, this is pretty much what the gameplay is like. In effect it allows you to immerse yourself into this game without any complicated schemes to optimizeyour gameplay.

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The characters of the story itself are marvelously written up, with the constant bickering between the geeky, unsentimental and boyish Dr. Neil Watts and the officious-yet-warm and forward thinking Dr. Eva Rosaline forming a hilarious and lovely backdrop to what is essentially a tragic story that will drive you to tears in many parts. The extremely strong narrative pace repeatedly made me laugh at the innocuous and geeky humor of Dr. Watts while Dr. Rosaline looks on with emotions ranging from severe disapproval to abject dismay at his actions.

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The story of John, however, was very well presented with some parts of his life akin to many things that we, normal people, might have felt.

To The Moon is a game of regret, love and dreams that is both unconditionally beautiful with its low-res graphics and at once heart-wrenching with its excellently crafted story. I implore you to play this, for this is the greatest video game I have played this year.

Gemini Rue: A Review

For me, any game that deals with memory and personality always has echoes of Planescape: Torment washing over it like a cool summer’s wave on a calm beach. It’s funny how a piece of art from 1999 keeps casting its shadow (visible or not) in many games of today, especially when it casts an invisible shadow over a game of a different genre set far in the future. Yet the lo-fi graphics on both the games form shimmering tendrils that are *known* to me.

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Gemini Rue is a lovingly crafted point n’ click adventure game from Wadjet Eye Studios that combines the brilliance of Blade Runner to the anxious urgency of Beneath a Steel Sky. It’s a throwback to the days of adventure games that one played for cleverly constructed puzzles as well as an immersive story that is both atmospheric and surreal at the same time.
And boy does Gemini Rue have atmosphere. Even with its pixelated stylized lo-fi graphics, the game oozes atmosphere right from the start. Baraccus’ dimly lit streets with flickering lights seem even more subdued under the constant rain that envelops the city, and the faintly heard refrain of a saxophone in the background only serves to enrich the fertile atmosphere and remind one of Blade Runner which no doubt served as an inspiration for this game. While I cannot say much about the story for even the most minor telling might spoilt the adventure, I can wax lyrical about the noir atmosphere that has been so effectively designed in the game.

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You play alternatively as Azriel Odin, an assassin-turned-policeman searching for his brother on the planet of Baraccus, and a patient designated Delta-Six on a mysterious testing facility where memory wipes and betrayals run amok. For most of the game you can switch between these two characters and complete their puzzles individually. As Azriel, you will engage against the semi-legitimate crime syndicate of the Boryokudan, (a reference no doubt to the Yakuza crime syndicate of Japan that is designated as boryokudan(violence group) by the Japanese police) who have the information on his brother, while Delta-Six trains with weapons and hatches plots for his escape from the facility. Later on you get to play other characters as well. The puzzles, for the most part, are quite simple; yet some of them are either rather mundane or something you would not think about until you replay it several times. Combat, as with many games of its kind, is rather silly and sometimes non-responsive. Thankfully combat is not very frequent in the game and the handy auto-save feature helps immensely in these cases. At some places the story does get a little oratorical and high-handed with its philosophical questions that relate memory, experience and consciousness. It’s a precarious perch, no doubt, from where the game sermons on you on these matters and at times does feel a little overdone. Nevertheless the story otherwise is magnificent and the voice acting is excellent for an indie game.

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The game is spectacular, and has brilliant references to other SciFi noir culture gems such as Blade Runner (with the give me a hard copyachievement) as well as cameos from Cowboy Bebop. This is a must-play for any adventure game fan as well as those who would like to sit back and relax on a rainy Saturday evening with a cup of hot coffee by their side. Buy it.

Bastion Review

I honestly did not know what I was getting into with Bastion, an indie game that came with a bucketload of recommendations and a folder full of evocative screenshots. I knew it was a highly recommended game, it was an Xbox Live Arcade downloadable title and that it was a hack-n-slash role playing game (RPG).

Nobody warned me about the haunting storyline and the beautiful soundtrack. Even if they did, I was too busy staring at the gorgeous screenshots to notice.

Bastion is, as mentioned before, an action RPG in which you play as the Kid a young silver-haired fellow who is as silent throughout the game as Gordon Freeman is in Half Life. The Kid wakes up at the end of a world-ending Calamity and seeks out the Bastion where he was told to go in times like these. There he finds out much and more about the Calamity and what he must do to repair the damage. However, the subtext of memory, remembrance and nostalgia is at times so subtle that it is invisible and at others, too jarring to be of any use. It is thus a good idea to re-play the game to understand a good chunk of the plot properly.

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The Kid’s story is told by a kindly old narrator as you plod through the game. Each and every action of the kid is narrated dynamically by the narrator and the story itself is furthered by the narrator’s words. The world literally falls into place as the Kid progresses through the story, so much so that if you play this game without turning up the sound you are missing out.

The World of Caelondia

The music of the game complements the storyline and its redolently striking art style. In a world that has been shaken by an unknown Calamity every level is a shadow of its former self, yet as the Kid plods through the worlds, Bastion‘s music touches upon that level’s former beauty and shakes poignant chords in the player’s heart. In one level, I was completely mesmerized by a melancholy song to the extent that I stopped playing for a few minutes just to listen to that song. The tune lingered throughout my playthrough from that point onwards and I am sure it will stay in my mind much longer.

The gameplay is quite similar to other hack-n-slash games, with a variety of weapons to unlock. You can select your loadout (the weapon that you will use with the left click, the right click and a special weapon as well) before starting a mission, or sometimes during the mission itself. The levels themselves vary in difficulty and it is essential that you get used to a set of weapons and upgrade them as you play the game.

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The game is a treasure-trove for the 100%-ers (gamers who wish to do everything and find everything in a game) since there is way too much to do. You can finish a level in your own time, or go to a training level to earn trinkets and upgrade materials. There are achievements to unlock and level-hardening idols to worship. There is a lot to do in this game and it does not get boring too fast (however it does since after a point, it’s just mindless clicking. I still maintain that Diablo II mastered the art of keeping one entertained through hours of mouseclicks).

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I heartily recommend Bastion to any fan of action RPGs or indie games. It’s a surprisingly well-made game that will keep you entertained enough for at least two playthroughs, while the soundtrack will haunt your ears for a longer time.

New Adventure

Indie Royale Bundle Launches with Quirky Pricing Scheme

Quirkypricing is obviously a commonplace phenomenon with indie games as a lot of them want great sales without selling their game for $0 and it is great exposure when your game is bundled along with heavy hitters of the indie scene. There’s also the question of alpha funding for many games (Project Zomboid comes to mind) (I jest) and these quirkily priced bundles are an excellent way to get some money before your game is finished. Wolfire Games’ initiative the widely known Humble Indie Bundle was one of the first game bundles to offer a unique Pay-What-You-Want scheme for buying a bunch of incredible games. Indiegames.com and indie digital distributor Desura took this idea a little further with their recently released Indie Royale Bundle.

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What is so unique about the Indie Royale Bundle? Straight from their mouths:-

[From a starting point of $1.99 for the first bundle], Indie Royale uses a unique new pricing mechanism. The total cost for the four-game bundle (which are worth over if $40 purchased separately) gradually increases as more bundles are bought, with early adopters guaranteed the best deals, and prices remaining competitive throughout.

There’s also a brilliant method that entices Samaritans who wish to help both the developers as well as other customers; if you buy the bundle at a higher price (say $50) then the effective price of the bundle comes down a few points:-

…those who choose to pay more than the current cost to support the indie developers and the people behind the bundle will appear on the front page of Indie Royale as part of a special section, with their name and URL called out specifically. In the process, they will drop the price of the game bundle for everyone else anywhere from several cents to multiple dollars! This pricing methodology will likely spawn unpredictable but entertaining results, and the creators of Indie Royale are looking forward to seeing the pricing trends that result.

The current bundle includes A.R.E.S. Extinction Agenda, Nimbus, Gemini Rue and Sanctum. Gemini Rue is supposedly an excellent point-and-click game that I am yet to play and since I have bought the bundle you may see a review of it soon enough! Moreover, new bundles will be released in a few days with different combinations of games to have fun with.

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As an addendum: the site works well with Indian debit cards! My purchase went through without routing over to VbV and I was the happy owner of four fun indie games.

An Interview with an OpDarknet Anon

By now a good chunk of you all will know about OpDarknet. This is a new operation by the nebulous collective of Anonymous to purge the DarkNet, also known as the deep web, which is a microcosm of hidden networks that is unreachable by conventional web crawlers.

For this reason, the DarkNet is a treasure trove for those interested in illicit information and materials such as illegal drugs, arms and ammunition and child pornography (CP).

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The fact that innocent children are being exploited to feed the urges of a number of perverse individuals did not sit well with Anonymous and thus #OpDarknet was born:-

On October 6th, 2011 some of us Anon were doing research into encryption and security.   The ‘darknet’ sites of TOR, I2P, and Freenode peaked our interest.   We were aware that, TOR and I2P where originally designed to protect individuals from the oppressive governments of China, Iran and protect Free Speech.

What we discovered was quite the opposite.   An growing and large of community of pedophiles was abusing such systems for personal profit.   To demonstrate this, The Hidden Wiki’s “hidden” section, the ‘Hard Candy’ is stated to be:

* This wiki page discusses resources specifically for people who are attracted to children. This can include everything from discussion groups to ostensibly legal images of children in dresses to full-out child pornography. The term children here refers to children and teenagers.

To explain how popular this community of pedophiles is.   The total page views of the Hidden   Wiki ‘Hard Candy’ section as of October 20th, 2011 is a total 2,055,701.   The total view count of main index (non-pedophilia content) of The Hidden Wiki was 2,677,430 time.

Considering the scope of this mission and its success, we initiated a brief interview on the #OpDarknet channel of the anonops server on IRC with a user named arson’ representing #OpDarknet. This operation is a worldwide phenomenon, as most other Anonymous operations are with Anons in every continent (as stated by arson). Arson forewarned us that much of the operation is still secretive and that they may not be able to answer all the questions put forth by us.

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Techie Buzz (TB): Pastebin data reveals that there is a huge amount of CP proliferating the DarkNet and most of the people there are staunch with their refusal to remove it since it is their “last safe haven” so to speak. Will it end in a stalemate?

Arson (A): I don’t believe it will. There are enough of us that operations go on around the clock nonstop, and we are gaining new supporters every day.

TB: And the process of your attacks will mostly be the same, i.e. DDoS (Distributed Denial of Service Attack) and when possible the unveiling of personal information of people involved in this kind of work, yes?

A: That I cannot say. What I can say is we will continue to take down the servers with any method necessary, and our research team will continue to dig up detail on the pedophiles.

TB: I see. This brings up my next question: is this attack only against CP or will it also continue to get rid of the the underground markets such as the silk road, the farmer’s market and the contract killers etc. on the DarkNet?

A: This is only against CP

TB: Is there any connection between this op and the shut down of /r/jailbait? I know this is a rather lame question but the two events occurred quite close to each other so I was wondering. (Also the fact that a news channel got wind of [almost] CP proliferating on the clearnet and thus debasement of a collective of the internet followed.)

A: To my knowledge, there is no connection between #OpDarknet and the shut down.

TB: How do you think the attack will affect the BitCoin (BTC) economy, since a very high amount of transactions are done using BTC in the DarkNet and the fact that you guys have struck a nerve there may put a pause to a majority of the transactions there since it might be deemed unreliable.

A: The majority of transactions have nothing to do with CP, and as for the illicit ones that do, they should feel evasive of buying or selling any sort of CP related material.

TB: This might be nitpicking, but considering that CP-related material proliferates every bit of the DarkNet (from whatever I can see, it’s either that, or drugs or misc. shady deals) which is bought by BTC won’t the BTC market fall?

A: You might say so, but in doing that, you’re saying that BitCoins rely on child pornography. Forgive me for sounding crass, but if that’s the case, then the currency is doomed at heart.

TB: Why the sudden turn of events to policing the DarkNet? Was there any trigger for this operation?

A: We vowed to fight for the defenseless, there is none more defenseless than innocent children being exploited.

TB: Thanks a lot arson. Any final words you’d like to add?

A: We aren’t doing it for the recognition, or the PR. We are doing this because it’s what is right and what should have been done a long time ago.

The Anonymous collective is hell bent on weeding out the smear of child porn from the DarkNet’s servers (specifically from Freedom Hosting) and it seems that they will punch through the staunch defense of the hidden web’s CP aficionados. However, if these people fled the searchable internet to the hidden one to pursue their ghastly pursuits, with enough time they may yet flee to a darker layer of the deep web to proliferate. Moreover, this is just a sprightly small step to be rid of the plague of child pornography and there are many miles to go before #OpDarknet sleeps. We hope the mainstream media picks this up and champions a campaign to get to the root cause of this exploitation. Kudos to #OpDarknet!