[MUD-Dev] Re: PK and my "Mobless MUD" idea

Dr. Cat cat at bga.com
Tue May 5 15:14:33 New Zealand Standard Time 1998

WARNING: The following message contains references to cannabilism.  
Those who have difficulty distinguishing reality from made-up stuff may 
wish to stop reading now.  (Those with weak stomachs should also be 
forewarned that there may be typos in the following text as well!)

Raph Koster wrote:
> cf my other post re: Bettelheim. Talking on the phone for social 
> purposes is "play" by his lights. However, how much of a phone 
> company's revenue comes from people in the business world (in other 
> words, engaging in the "game" of getting ahead?).

I don't know.  But consider...  Home computer games were in the hundreds 
of millions of dollars in annual revenues, for the whole industry, until 
just the last few years when they grew up into the $1-$2 billion range.  
Console videogames (Nintendo, Sega, Sony, etc.) have fluctuated over the 
years, hitting around $5 billion or more in the better years.  Arcade 
machines, the kind you put quarters in, have been as high as a $10 
billion a year industry, but they're seriously slumping right now.

Compare this against the phone industry.  The last year I saw numbers 
for, if you added local and long distance revenues together, the total 
was $162 billion a year.  What percentage of that needs to be 
non-business calls for it to dwarf the computer & videogame market?  
Heck, even broadcast TV is only $40 billion a year.  And for what it's 
worth, I'm willing to take money from the business community too, if they 
want to buy any services we provide.  Their money is just as dirty as 
everyone else's after all.  :X)

(If anyone's interest in the comparison - online gaming is over $100 
million a year now, 1997 was the year it broke that mark.  Highly 
optimistic research and forecasting firms like Forrester and Jupiter are 
predicting it'll be over a billion in 3 or 4 years.  I hope they're 
right, but I suspect when you're selling reports that cost over a 
thousand dollars apiece, it pays to make sure you're offering the client 
something that sounds like ral good news!)

> It's interesting to note that these two hooks are almost always 
> inextricably intertwined. A roleplayer who is "playing" finds 
> enjoyment from it, sure, but I bet they will roleplay extra hard if 
> there's some award to win that marks them as "the best roleplayer." 

What I actually mentioned as hooks were "gaining money/power/items" and 
"chatting/socializing".  While the former has been almost inextricably 
linked with the concept of "computer roleplaying game" since the early 
days, when almost everything made was a D&D inspired dungeon crawl, you 
really can have "roleplaying" without "pumping yourself up" and 
vice/versa.  Some kids might play "cops and robbers" or "cowboys and 
indians" or "play house" or have an imaginary tea party.  Me and my best 
friend used to play Star Trek, he was Spock and I was Kirk.  We made no 
effort to say we had "gained a level" or "had higher phaser skill" or had 
items acquired from the last time we played, or anything.  We just had 
different settings and stories the next time, exact same characters.

Or maybe I'm misreading you, and rather than casting my hooks of 
"building up" and "chatting" as "roleplaying" and "chatting", you're 
casting them as "building up" and "roleplaying".  I wouldn't agree with 
that characterization either.  Many people will sit around and chat about 
what they did at school/work today, what they ate, what movie they saw, 
etc.  There's no roleplaying involved in that - but there is a lot of 
money in it.  On every commercial online service I know of (AOL, 
Compuserve, Genie, Prodigy, etc.) the chatrooms was their number one most 
popular feature (and therefore, in the era of hourly fees, also their 
biggest moneymaker).

Anyway, when I first happened upon the mud scene, I happily accepted the 
labels of "combat muds" and "social muds" as the two categories the mud 
world was divided up into.  On getting to know it better, though, I 
realized there were really three kinds.  Combat (most dikus and LPs), 
social (most MOOs and MUCKs and other TinyMUD derivatives) and 
roleplaying (most commonly found on MUSHes, though it pops up elsewhere 
at times).  On FurryMUCK, there was for a time a huge tension between the 
roleplayers and the socializers.  In small private groups of friends, 
they'd get along fine.  But in the main crowded public areas, they'd 
annoy each other with the conflicting assumptions "Since this is 
primarily a roleplaying MUCK, when I start acting out some story in the 
park, other people should play along or at least treat it like it's 
really happening" and "Since this is primarily a social MUCK, I should be 
able to hang around here and just chat, and not have my conversation 
interrupted by people trying to play out kidnappings, earthquakes, 50 
foot giants grabbing people, and wizards turning me into a newt."

We have these two groups in abundance on Furcadia (and also people who 
want very much for a combat system to be added, which isn't going to 
happen - at most some voluntary tools for people who want to play out 
MUSH-like combats and add some perceived validity to the results, but 
which can be easily ignored).  The goal was always to build the central 
maps to allow players to self-segregate into groups of people with 
similar tastes, rather than annoy each other and generate friction by 
constantly rubbing up against people with incompatible tastes and 
desires.  The next update of the game will be the first one where we 
actually have things set up to attempt to do a decent job of it.  In 
addition to the categories I already mentioned, we're going to have two 
R-rated areas.  The first for risque' behavior, the other I realized the 
need for last week when seeing some characters tossing bloody severed 
body parts around in the main tavern and cooking them, it'll be called 
Dusk to Dawn and will by for gory violent stuff.  I'm sure the many 
vampires in the game will all gravitate to it.

Anyway I think the various elements - building up power, roleplaying a 
character, and socializing - are indeed very intertwined for a player 
that wants to do all of them.  And they become intertwined for those that 
don't, in a homogenous environment the likes of, oh I dunno, say every 
mud ever (just about).  But I'm making an "online service", and I feel 
that a significant number of players might want to participate in only 
one or two of those three things, and not be annoyed by people expecting 
them to participate in the rest.  It's just like an online service might 
have buttons on its opening menu for news, movies, and sports - or a 
newspaper would have sections for them.  Organize things, let people pick 
and choose, rather than having everything that can happen in the world be 
possible everywhere in the world because it's more "realistic" or more 
"consistent".  Yes, it's more consistent.  But in the information age, 
value is created by sorting information, not by presenting/providing it 
in a highly homogenous form.  "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of 
small minds", as the line goes.

These are the kinds of thoughts that led me to decide years ago that in 
any combat-based graphic mud I'd ever do, there would be three types of 
areas.  Those where anybody could attack anything, those where players 
could attack monsters only, and attacks against other players would do no 
damage, and areas (usually towns) where it was physically impossible for 
anybody to take any damage from anything.  For all the talk of loopholes 
like taming dragons or whatever, if you make it impossible for people to 
take damage (or other negative effects of any kind) while in a town, I 
don't think any clever trick or loophole is going to turn up.  I also 
think that the "players can attack monsters but not other players" area 
could be made loophole free, if this is a primary goal from day one 
rather than "let's throw in every kind of mechanism for making lots of 
different kinds of stuff happen, and hey, let's throw in that kitchen 
sink too!"  You either leave out mechanisms like area attacks, spells to 
control monsters, etc. - or if you want to do more work, you make sure 
that every possible damaging action is associated with a "who initiated 
this" value, and if if the fire-wall, hynotized or tamed monster's 
attack, cloud of gas set off by triggering a trap, etc. was set off by a 
player it can't damage any other player.  Yes, you lose the ability to 
have "thief screws up disarming trap on chest, entire party gets hurt 
when it goes off" situation.  I would posit that there are enough other 
types of interesting situations in heroic fantasy that you can create a 
rich and interesting experience without needing to use this specific one.

For me, it's all about A) trying to focus more on what I think the 
players want, rather than primarily on what I personally would want in a 
game (as most designers do).  Though it is essential that there's enough 
overlap, or I'll find myself bored or miserable, working on stuff I don't 
like at all.  And B) providing for more than one type of player, with 
different tastes, rather than picking a specific set of tastes and 
catering only to the specific group of players that has those tastes.
This is because I have personal, artisitic and economic desires to reach 
the broadest possible audience.  I do recognize that deliberately 
focusing on a specific audience, even a small one, is a valid choice for 
people who have no desire to reach a broader audience, and can sometimes 
lead to results that are highly interesting artistically through their 
greater focus and depth.

> We're in agreement, at least, that such methods are flawed. :) My 
> personal feeling is that once you say, "This place is safe" that 
> players will approach it with a reasonable expectation of said promise 
> being met. A promise which it appears we agree *cannot be fulfilled.* 
> Therefore I prefer to a) not mislead the players and b) not incur the 
> inevitable hit when they realize I did so. There's also the question 
> of whether making such a promise stifles the playerbase from seeking 
> their own solutions,and thus taking the development of virtual 
> societies a little further.

I can't agree until you define some terms better, starting with "safe".  
If it means "safe from being killed", that's a piece of cake.  See any 
talker, or Furcadia, or wherever.  If it means "safe from anything 
unpleasant ever happening", that's different.  In theory we could provide 
"ultra-moderated world", with five moderators to every player.  To 
prevent even the minorly upsetting occurence of some stranger cussing at 
you once and then being booted AFTERWARDS, the moderators pre-screen 
every spoken remark, and you only see it if they approve it.  Heck, 
though, they might show an error in judgement, or ignorance of what 
upsets you.  Let's get rid of that "other players" concept, we only allow 
one player, and he talks to and interacts with the five moderators.  (Now 
we have no need to provide 10, 15, 20 or even more, 5 will always 
suffice!)  We have them go live in the player's house for a few years 
first, before we let him even log onto the game, so we make sure none of 
THEM will accidentally make a remarks that offends him because they 
didn't know him well enough.

Well ok, that's a theoretical construct to counter the absolutist phrase 
"cannot be fulfilled".  We know that neither in the commercial world, 
where it would never be profitable (unless the one player were wealthy 
and wanted to squander a lot of money on his entertainment...  Hmmm...),
and in the free world you'd never get so much volunteer time and effort.
Still...  If it's unfair to treat "can/cannot be fulfilled" as an 
absolutist statemnt...  Should we treat "safe" that way either?  Are 
there any places in the real world that people would apply the world 
"safe" to, in spite of the fact that you could be struck dead by a meteor 
just about anywhere?  I think we wouldn't have the word "safe" in the 
language if people didn't think it ever applied.  And I think if you have 
someone in a big stewpot with a bonfire around it, surrounded by hungry 
spearwaving cannibals, and you reach a hand down from the rope ladder 
suspended from the helicopter your friend is piloting and say "Would you 
like me to take you to someplace safe?" that the fellow will reply "No 
thanks, I happen to know it's impossible to make anyplace safe, so I'll 
just stay here".

Being able to provide "safer" environments and "less safe" environments 
is clearly possible, levels of safety not being equal in all cases.  
Whether it's possible to climb the laddder of "safer but still dangerous" 
up into a zone that could be categorized as actually "safe" depends on 
where you draw that line.  What level of probability of a bad event, 
overall frequency of bad events, average severity of the bad things that 
happen, and maximum severity of bad things that happens qualifies as 
"safe"?  Is 99.999% safe "safe" to you?  How about 98%?  90%?  80%

The answer, or course, is that there is no one single answer.  Some 
people find various levels of risk more acceptable than others.  Some set 
out to tame the west, some preferred to stay back east.  So perhaps a 
really meaningful answer to "is this environment safe" can only be gotten 
by comparing it to the collective opinions of A) the current player-base 
of a given game, or B) the entire target audience that the creators of 
the game want to convince to come play, or C) the entire human race.  
Depending on what you're trying to analyze "safeness" for.

I will point out that virtual environments are well know for allowing 
people to try out different sides of their personality, or try out things 
they don't even know if they want or not, to find out.  They can try 
being less shy, more shy, a different sexual orientation, a different 
gender, being the life of the party, a leader, a hero, a dishonest 
cheater, anything.  And time and time again, we find people trying out 
things that they would NEVER try in real life, and learning about 
themselves from it, feeling liberated and empowered by it, etc.

Why is this?  Because the online environments are "safer than real life".
No real life environment is likely to EVER be as safe as most online 
environments are.  Even as "dangerous" a place as Ultima Online, where 
people can brutally murder you, hack up your corpse, cook your ribs and 
eat them, still shares most of the incredibly safe characteristics that 
online places inherently hve compared to real life.  Nobody you 
encounter, and nothing they do, is going to make you die in real life 
(excluding the possibilty of them saying something so startling you have 
a heart attack, and presuming you don't provide your address or other 
information that might let them track you down in real life and murder you).
Nobody you encounter can make you catch a disease in real life, get you 
pregnant, take your real life money (excepting the game provider who has 
your credit card number - wink wink), assault you, insure you, rape you, 
see the expression on your face when they embarass you, know things about 
your real race/religion/gender/acne that you don't want them to know...  
And the ultimate freedom, if you decide your contact with someone is so 
unpleasant that you never want to see them or interact with them ever 
again, the likelihood of them being able to do so against your will is 
lower in cyberspace than it is anywhere else.

Online environments are safer by far than anything in the real world, 
even Ultima Online is.  And it's possible to provide environments 
significantly safer than Ultima Online.  So is it impossible to make 
anyplace "safe"?  As I said, it depends on your definition of "safe".  By 
my own - yeah, you can make a place pretty darn safe.  I suspect that I 
also believe you can make a social environment a lot more free from 
rudeness than you would perhaps believe possible - being, as you stated 
yourself, cynical.  Well, believe it when you see it and not before, and 
I'll strive to produce that proof.  :X)

> It boils down to the fact that players will attempt to exercise power 
> over one another. Presence of a combat system, the ability to do 
> damage to one another, whatever, will not change this.

I've seen a lot of these arguments pop up lately on the list that 
"non-killing games are different only in degree and not in kind".  All 
the way up to the extreme claim that any competitive game is sort of the 
same thing as competing by killing someone.  I disagree.  I think the 
feeling of seeing someone surge past me from 20 points behind to beat me 
at Scrabble on the last turn by making a seven letter word is SO 
different from the feeling of having someone kill me in a gory spray of 
blood, cook me, and eat my ribs, that the two experiences DO differ in 
kind, not just in degree.  While some part of the experience of being 
killed and eaten does feel "just like losing at Scrabble only much 
stronger", there are other parts of the experience that simply aren't 
present in the Scrabble game at all.

Likewise, I don't see the game systems that have combat mechanics that 
can override your desires as feeling the same as someone typing "Ha Ha I 
killed you" in an IRC chat room.

  Boffo swings his sword.  You take 7 points of damage.  You die.
  Boffo is pulling your intestines out with his bare hands.
  >swing sword at Boffo
  You can't do that, you're dead.
  Boffo is draping your intestines over the christmas tree.
  >run away at full speed
  You can't do that, you're dead.

This is unpleasant in some certain specific way, which could be 
categorized in a certain spot in the taxonomy of unpleasantness.
Consider a social mud, which only has a "pose" command for actions.

  Boffo summons a super-duper lightning bolt from the heavens and zaps you
  dead instantly, then cackles with fiendish glee!
  >pose steps aside, and the lightning doesn't really hit him.
  Bubba steps aside, and the lightning doesn't really hit him.
  Boffo pulls a machine gun out of his nose and showers you in a hail
  of bullets, turning you into a pile of hamburger riddled with hot lead!
  >pose catches all the bullets in his mouth, spitting them back at Boffo
  and cutting his suspenders, revealing his boxer shorts.
  Bubba catches all the bullets in his mouth, spitting them back at Boffo
  and cutting his suspenders, revealing his boxer shorts.
  Steve says "This is pointless."
  Boffo hacks you to pieces with his magic sword of no-takebacks, leaving
  you irrevocably dead no matter what you type to say it didn't happen!
  >say You're right, I should just ignore what he poses and not respond.
  Let's get back to our conversation about the guild we're gonna start.
  You say, "You're right, I should just ignore what he poses and not respond.
  Let's get back to our conversation about the guild we're gonna start."
  Steve says, "Are you using tinyfugue?  Type /gag Boffo and you won't even
  hear him anyway."

I'd contend that this is unpleasant in an entirely different way than the 
previous example.  And that the differences between them are significant, 
not trivial.

I'd also contend that the nature of pests and pestering in the latter 
case makes it far easier to set up criteria to distinguish them from 
people who are doing things that are "ok", and to provide mechanisms to 
filter, block, or prevent that kinda stuff out of the world without also 
removing a bunch of the desired behavior.

I think that in a practical sense, rather than an absolutist one, the 
statement "There's a maximum level of safety that you can reasonably 
expect to be able to provide" applies to a combat mud.  And it ALSO 
applies to a social mud.  However, what that maximum level IS differs 
greatly between those two cases, and is much, much higher in the case of 
the social mud.  Also, it's somewhere in between for combat muds that 
allow some mechanism for partially or totally opting out of player vs. 
player combat (or even player vs. monster combat, by staying only in 
towns or whatever), as opposed to muds where combat is allowed everywhere 
always against everyone.

> Now, the server 
> may attract a different audience because of its stated rules--eg, less 
> people seeking to kill, or possibly MORE seeking easy targets--but the 
> underlying dynamics will not change.

Only at the broadest levels.  Like "if you put a bunch of people together 
they'll probably talk to each other" and stuff.  Highly different 
audiences will have highly different social dynamics.  I'm sure if I 
logged onto that MOO that's set up for astronomers to collaborate and 
communicate on, or the educational MOO for elementary school kids that's 
set on a space-station, I would find drastically different dynamics than 
I would upon logging onto one of the big pkill-arena oriented muds.  I'm 
afraid I can't possibly see the dynamics as "unchanged" there.  Perhaps 
you're talking about a narrower range of the field of muds than I am.  
But even at that, I feel the social dynamics in Furcadia are drastically 
different than those in Ultima Online, and I've from both players who 
love UO and hate Furcadia, and players who hate UO and love Furcadia.  
They seem to feel very strongly that there's totally different dynamics 
there, and I think they're right.

> I am interested in finding 
> solutions to that dynamic, not in providing a stopgap measure. I think 
> said solutions will HAVE to arise from the players, not from a 
> supposedly-all-powerful-but-actually-flawed "God" up in admin-land.

I'd say "one of the dynamics in human experience" rather than "that 
dynamic" - shopping malls cater to a different subset of human desires 
and dynamics than sports arenas, and I think different online services 
and/or muds will cater to more than one also, rather than there just 
being one single one we're all aimed at.  That aside - I find the "from 
the players vs. from the staff" dichotomy to be as artificial and 
misleading as the "heredity vs. environment" debat or "the mind/body 
problem".  You need both, and you want them to be working together well.  
Imagine someone with a good home environment set up, good parents, a nice 
school ready...  But they're born with no DNA in their body.  Ooops!  Or 
someone with great genes from smart, healthy parents, but they grow up 
floating in a white sensationless void.  Nope.  As for the mind/body 
problem, well, I think brains are a body-part.

  Boffo slices Bubba's head open with an ax.  Brains splatter on the walls.

Yup, it's a body part.  Thanks Boffo.  Anyway, I really think an ideal 
solution involves a combination of staff and players.  I think that I 
know how to do this well, and will learn how to do it better - time will 
tell.  I don't want to sit around rambling about it, I'm just going to 
work on doing it - for years and years and years.  I will say that I 
think some of the strongest early knowledge and experience with the 
techniques I'm trying to use and refine comes from the world of the 
sysops of SIGs on the big commercial online services like Compuserve and 
Genie.  There's very little cross-fertilization between that body of 
ideas and knowledge and that of the mud development community, though.

Oh well, one more advantage for me, maybe.  ;X)

> [Total aside: the fact that virtual environments by their nature will 
> ALWAYS have a "god" lurking out there--even if it's only the guy who 
> has the power to turn the machine off--introduces an often baffling 
> social dynamic into the design. Thoughts, anyone?]

Thought number one - I hate how it's made some people react to me - 
really shy people even going so far as to say they're terrified of me.
People asking if I can view everyone's whispers (I can't) or assuming I 
have a log of everything anyone ever said (I don't).  Still, for the most 
part, actually being present in the game defuses a lot of that (common 
quote, with apologies to Douglas Adams, "I'm just this cat you know" 
(comma deliberately omitted, on most occasions, for artistic porpoises)).
And it gives people the pleasure of interacting with the maker of the 
game, feeling like their opinions and concerns and suggestions are really 
being heard, and supports my general methodologies for making the keeping 
of order a joint staff/players thing, rather than assigning it to one or 
the other or having a sharp division about who does what.

People would love it to death if Richard would spend a significant amount 
of time playing Ultima Online.  A pity that sort of thing just isn't his 
cup of tea enough for him to spend large amounts of time doing it.  
Failing that, it's worth considering having Lord British actors run 
around, like the multiple Mickey-Mouse suited people at Disneyworld, or 
all the department store Santas, building up the name recognition more 
heavily of other staff members who DO get on a lot, or even giving 
players titles and/or minor powers that make them feel like staff to 
players that interact with them.

Powers most players don't have do distort the game experience, by the 
way, and I think the BEST creators have to spend most of their time 
living in the game world experiencing it exactly the way the players do.  
So that anything that sucks about the game world is something YOU want 
changed because YOU can't stand it and must improve/fix it, as soon as 
possible!  It's far, far too easy to let an issue be a lower priority 
than it should be, or even not deal with it at all, because it's only 
bothering all the players and isn't bothering you at all when you go into 
the game world.  I've learned this lesson time and time again in the game 
development world, where often developers will test their game only on 
super-souped-up computers and never FEEL whether or not it sucks on 
average performance level type computers that the typical consumer has at 
that point in time.

I know I play Furcadia over a 28.8 modem.  Sometimes I play as alts, that 
don't even have access to the paltry selection of sysop commands that are 
in so far.  (I will confess I cheat sometimes and look in the system logs 
to see when my fiancee' was last online.  The players don't have a 
"laston" command yet, and I feel my cheating robs me of some of my proper 
level of motivation to add one...)  And sometimes I play on my old 
486-33.  Which can actually handle the game reasonably well.  :X)

> I believe that if we did this, and it didn't work out as they had 
> hoped for, they would blame us for "not doing it right." Without 
> understanding the underlying dynamic.

Since you never have this problem with the current game, I can see why 
you wouldn't want to make this change.  ;X)

Seriously, you have this problem already, and yes you'll continue to have 
it with a no-pkill shard, but so what?  What if it turns out that the 
percentage of people complaining about their expectations not being met 
is lower than it is on the pkill shards?  What if it's roughly around the 
same level, but now you're catering to TWO groups of players, with two 
different types of tastes, rather than one?

I still think you could keep this fairly minimal, too.  Plaster huge, 
bloody-red dripping letters on the opening screen that says "WARNING.  
This shard doesn't eliminate the possibility of getting killed by other 
players, it just reduces it beause now they have to think up weird tricks 
like turning tamed dragons loose next to you.  Have a nice day."

Or adopt one of my more drastic solutions, and turn off ALL ability for 
anyone to take damage anywhere from anything.  You should probably then 
shut down all monster generation, and require people to earn money from 
mining, tailoring, etc.  (I imagine you'd leave in chickens, cows, etc. 
for hunting and getting hides and food and the like.  The fact that 
people could kill a cow or rabbit every time and never get killed by it 
wouldn't upset their expectations too much - in fact it might be more in 
tune with them than the fact that you CAN be killed by them now.)  Stamp 
the title screen with "This is the way it is on this shard so listen up 
and then don't complain later that it wasn't what you thought it was".
With something that clear and straightforward, I don't think you'd get 
many people complaining because of incorrect expectations.  Some would 
say "It's no fun for it to be this way", to which you say "try one of the 
other nine shards, duh".  

The people that say "The way you did the other nine is wrong, and this 
way is wrong too, here's MY brilliant idea and you should have done it MY 
way you fools!"  Well...  All those people are already saying that to you 
anyway, aren't they?

You really ought to do this.  And I stand by my prediction that 
management there will never go for it.  That's ok, I won't mind having a 
larger share of the combat-disliking market for Furcadia.  :X)

The Oasis example you cite is interesting.  I'd just contacted the 
founder of Oasis myself last week, and asked him what changes he would 
want in game mechanics to make it more practical to found and run 
player-built cities.  He said it all really boiled down to needing better 
ways to deal with the problem of people who want to spoil other people's 
fun.  I just smiled when I read that, because I think at the core of it, 
that's one of the two fundamental goals of Furcadia.  One is to provide 
tools and encouragement to get the players excercising their creativity 
and sharing it with others.  The other is to provide tools and education 
that do the most to minimize the amount of spoiling of people's fun that 
the jerks can accomplish.  I'm sure that most muds have that as something 
on the list of stuff they want to do, but I think very few would consider 
it one of their core priorities.

Me, I still think that in a world where people kill each other for real, 
it's pretty important to help them learn how to get along better.  All 
the more so if we've invented, say, nuclear weapons.  :X)

So anyway what I'm really trying to say here is - Good luck with the baby!

   Dr. Cat / Dragon's Eye Productions       ||       Free alpha test:
*-------------------------------------------**  http://www.bga.com/furcadia
  Furcadia - a new graphic mud for PCs!     ||  Let your imagination soar!

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