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Snowballing and Turtling


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#1 starbasecitadel   Members   -  Reputation: 694

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Posted 02 September 2012 - 09:20 AM

I'm working on a starship battles 2D mulitplayer iPad game, and have most of the high-level game design for the first version of the game in place. 5 races compete in a free for all, which each race having 10 starship pilots on their team.

However, I feel as it stands now the game will be too difficult for any side to win in a reasonable amount of time, and thus am looking at implementing more snowball mechanisms. In addition to that, as with any free for all style game, putting in place some anti-turtling mechanisms is probably going to be helpful.

If anyone has general ideas for snowball, or anti-turlting mechanisms / design techniques please chime in! Here are some possibilities:


* higher resource income based on teams' map control, leading to better equipment and teleportation ease (currently the only one in my game)

* experience; leveling up with new abilities or better stats unlocked based on time and distance spent away from your homeworld

* buffs (eg Baron buff in LoL; a team doing well enough can secure the powerful Baron further increasing their advantage)

* stronger NPC allies / weaker NPC enemies based on map control objectives; (eg destroying an Inhibitor in LoL gives your team more powerful minions trying to defeat the enemgy team)

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#2 Hodgman   Moderators   -  Reputation: 27845

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Posted 02 September 2012 - 10:09 AM

If you want a diplomatic twist: protectorates. A strong player can offer an almost-dead player a "lesser defeat" by becoming a protectorate of the stronger player. After accepting, then instead of struggling to hold off against that strong player, they can join the strong forces against the remaining players.
To keep it mostly FFA, you could only allow this option to be used by players who are already in the lead, against players who are definitely almost eliminated.

Edited by Hodgman, 02 September 2012 - 10:10 AM.


#3 aattss   Members   -  Reputation: 373

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Posted 02 September 2012 - 12:08 PM

Nice. Also, hopefully under-powered players will still have stuff they can do to help their friends without feeding or just spending most of their time waiting to respawn.

#4 PeterF   Members   -  Reputation: 570

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Posted 02 September 2012 - 12:48 PM

I'm not sure if this is applicable for your game, but I find that allowing more/better units to be trained or hired (say from a different race or faction) based on increased map control is a really effective way to stop players from turtling without making it an extremely obvious cop-out. It can also help to end games quicker as you start to restrict your opponents' unit selection while increasing yours with any captures.

#5 Mratthew   Members   -  Reputation: 1494

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Posted 02 September 2012 - 03:52 PM

Any type of "one time use" or inaccurate long range attack helps break up turtling. Relic game's do a good job of anti-turtling IMO. As for snowballing, I would issue the leading player of a team the task of issuing specialty weapons to other players (if this applies). That way the leading players can explore more responsibility and less successful players can explore some new items.

#6 Acharis   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 3126

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Posted 03 September 2012 - 02:16 AM

High level units should have capability to break down all defences. In StarCraft 1 the Terran battleships were such units. You just built 10 of these and the ground defences became obsolete. At theat point it was one decisive battle.

You could also make a classic timer. The side that controls the most victory flags/beacons when the times run out wins. Generally, play Team Fortress 2 (I know no other FPS, I'm not a fun of this genre, maybe there are better examples) and it all will become clear. Won't fit all genres/themes through.

I advise against all complex mechanics here. Just adding more attack to end tier units and such things is enough/the best in my opinion.

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#7 starbasecitadel   Members   -  Reputation: 694

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Posted 03 September 2012 - 07:39 AM

Great feedback, thanks everyone!

One thing to clarify is the starship pilots are all individual players with their own iPad's, so it is 50 live players divided into 5 teams (races), as opposed to just 5 live players. But I think the same logic in terms of strategy applies, every idea you have suggested is really good.

What I'm leaning on right now is this:

* Timers : every 20 minutes, if no race has been eliminated in the previous 20 minutes, then the race who has lost 1 of their 2 bases, with # of planets controlled being a tiebreaker, is eliminated. In the case of a remaining tie (eg there are 2 races that each have 1 base and 10 planets), a warning message goes out to all players that these 2 races are at risk of extinction and as soon as one of the races involved in the tie has a change in map control, the worst-positioned team is eliminated.

This is for the first released version of the game. The first version is a stepping stone for a more expansive version of the game down the road, which builds on this basic gameplay but adds in more players, more unit type variety, more upgrade variety, and a much richer diplomatic / strategic aspect. In later versions, I might replace or augment the timer with these other snowball mechanisms.

#8 Yrjö P.   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 1412

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Posted 03 September 2012 - 12:39 PM

The key problems in a FFA are how to prevent last-to-move-advantage (which causes stalemates) and how to prevent kingmaker situations. I wouldn't worry about snowballing / turtling until you have a good idea what you are going to do about those things.

#9 jefferytitan   Members   -  Reputation: 1688

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Posted 03 September 2012 - 03:25 PM

If your game has a time limit anyway, why not have non-replenishing resources in the game? That would encourage exploring and fighting. Different tech trees might have different consumables.

#10 starbasecitadel   Members   -  Reputation: 694

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Posted 03 September 2012 - 04:31 PM

The key problems in a FFA are how to prevent last-to-move-advantage (which causes stalemates) and how to prevent kingmaker situations. I wouldn't worry about snowballing / turtling until you have a good idea what you are going to do about those things.


Yes, I admit I had originally intended this to be just 2 teams playing against each other, for all the challenges FFA game designing presents. It was only recently that I changed my mind, as part of an overall push to re-prioritize diplomacy (though most of the diplomacy-side features will not be in place until a later version). I believe a 5 team, 10 starship per team war would feel more epic than a 2 team, 25 starship per team war. I like the depth it gives. But yes, it definitely introduces many game design challenges, some of which I'm not prepared for.

I'm debating the possibility of encouraging Kingmaker situations, at least to some degree. I am considering incorporating some of the design elements of the board game Diplomacy into this: alliances, backstabs, etc. The key game design element in Diplomacy is that to expand your position (and thus make progress towards winning the game) requires either putting one of your borders at risk, or taking the risks of an alliance. The risks of an alliance are that it could leave you open to backstab, or simply that while it helps you out it also helps out another player, one that you eventually will have to destroy.

Unlike the game Diplomacy, there is no delayed orders so to speak (in Diplomacy, it is a turn-based game where everyone submits their moves and they are unveiled simultaneously). All teams have full vision (simply because I believe at a certain number of players, it just becomes too easy to have another friend log into the enemy team as a spy and report their position to you, making the game unfair). I have not figured out a way around that, so decided no fog of war in order that everyone be assured the game is fair. It complicates game design significantly though (particularly if I go with a Diplomacy-game style strategy element).

For the initial version of the game, I would like it to be somewhat more of a general mahem with few of these higher level strategy and diplomacy elements. Not that I think they are unimportant, but just for the initial version I don't think I'll have capacity to implement enough depth to be able to support the rich diplomacy aspects that I want for a later version.

If your game has a time limit anyway, why not have non-replenishing resources in the game? That would encourage exploring and fighting. Different tech trees might have different consumables.


That makes a lot of sense. As currently designed, each starship can have 2 special abilities. Initially I was thinking each of the two special abilities would have both a cooldown as well as require resource income (currently just mining credits). It might make sense to keep 1 of each starship's special abilities still based on the main resource (mining credits), but for their 2nd special abilities have it based on these non-renewable resource locations. There could be enough supply for not just 1 usage, but perhaps multiple uses, with each starship being able to carry the additional inventory in their cargo and being appropriately marked as such, so they would not only have to find the resources but also make it back to one of their bases successfully. Starships carrying such cargo would be vulnerable to ambush and losing the bonus resources to an enemy team until they returned to base.

#11 GnollAF   Members   -  Reputation: 190

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Posted 04 September 2012 - 03:21 AM

This sounds quite fun. I think removing fog of war is okay, check out the Starcraft maps Zone Control, and also Starcraft Evolves UMS. I imagine it playing out something like this, with a giant brawl, and position being everything (except coordination will be more difficult because you have individual players for each units, rather than controlling a single army)

#12 Yrjö P.   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 1412

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Posted 04 September 2012 - 03:45 AM

Yes, I admit I had originally intended this to be just 2 teams playing against each other, for all the challenges FFA game designing presents. It was only recently that I changed my mind, as part of an overall push to re-prioritize diplomacy (though most of the diplomacy-side features will not be in place until a later version). I believe a 5 team, 10 starship per team war would feel more epic than a 2 team, 25 starship per team war. I like the depth it gives. But yes, it definitely introduces many game design challenges, some of which I'm not prepared for.

Coordinating 10 (or god forbid, 25) players on your team is a big effort to begin with - the kind that needs hardcore players. I presume these will be public/random teams. Scouting and discerning the intentions of another big team in a hidden information situation is another big challenge. Keeping track of a five-way FFA situation and understanding the dynamics is very, very hard. When I was in about 10% of best Starcraft 2 players after the launch, I couldn't effectively scout three other players to a FFA or properly use the information I did get.

I'm debating the possibility of encouraging Kingmaker situations, at least to some degree. I am considering incorporating some of the design elements of the board game Diplomacy into this: alliances, backstabs, etc. The key game design element in Diplomacy is that to expand your position (and thus make progress towards winning the game) requires either putting one of your borders at risk, or taking the risks of an alliance. The risks of an alliance are that it could leave you open to backstab, or simply that while it helps you out it also helps out another player, one that you eventually will have to destroy.

That's not kingmaker. Kingmaker is the situation where a faction can't plausibly win anymore, but still has power to affect others for the lulz. So while factions 1 and 2 have played well and are dead even, and faction 3 is dead as far as winning the game goes, faction 3's actions decide which of factions 1 and 2 will win. It really takes the fun out the game for 1 and 2 who know their win or loss was an arbitrary decision by another faction. It's always bad and it's hard to keep out of FFAs.

I'd seriously consider doing team vs team first before going for an even more enormous challenge. Team vs team equals FFA at the point where two factions are left, so everything you have to figure out for team vs team, you'd also have to figure out for FFA. But not vice versa.

#13 starbasecitadel   Members   -  Reputation: 694

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Posted 04 September 2012 - 07:08 AM

This sounds quite fun. I think removing fog of war is okay, check out the Starcraft maps Zone Control, and also Starcraft Evolves UMS. I imagine it playing out something like this, with a giant brawl, and position being everything (except coordination will be more difficult because you have individual players for each units, rather than controlling a single army)

Thanks, I'll check those out!


That's not kingmaker. Kingmaker is the situation where a faction can't plausibly win anymore, but still has power to affect others for the lulz. So while factions 1 and 2 have played well and are dead even, and faction 3 is dead as far as winning the game goes, faction 3's actions decide which of factions 1 and 2 will win. It really takes the fun out the game for 1 and 2 who know their win or loss was an arbitrary decision by another faction. It's always bad and it's hard to keep out of FFAs.

Gotcha. I don't have a solution for this yet, and agree it is annoying and something hopefully I could eliminate. In some cases I could see snowball mechanisms help mitigate this, as perhaps the losing race is weak enough at one point they can't even play kingsmaker as they are dealing with just survival. Sort of like (though without the FFA), in LoL when a team has lost 2 or 3 of its 3 inhibitors. At that point not only are they behind in position but also are subject to super-minions attacking their base, forcing them to defend. Of course by this point they will probably lose the game soon, and can only win if the stronger team royalty screws things up.



I'd seriously consider doing team vs team first before going for an even more enormous challenge. Team vs team equals FFA at the point where two factions are left, so everything you have to figure out for team vs team, you'd also have to figure out for FFA. But not vice versa.

I am still very open to this being a 2 team game, particularly for the initial version of the game, and to a lesser degree the full version of the game. That is a good point that any FFA game eventually gets down to 2 teams, so the initial version could be used to make sure play balance is decent in that situation, and then I could start expanding the number of players potentially. Ideally I can get some good design elements that make the FFA enjoyable, but if not certainly more balanced, well designed 2 team game is going to be a lot better than a poorly designed FFA. So we'll see.

Coordinating 10 (or god forbid, 25) players on your team is a big effort to begin with - the kind that needs hardcore players. I presume these will be public/random teams. Scouting and discerning the intentions of another big team in a hidden information situation is another big challenge. Keeping track of a five-way FFA situation and understanding the dynamics is very, very hard. When I was in about 10% of best Starcraft 2 players after the launch, I couldn't effectively scout three other players to a FFA or properly use the information I did get.


On the coordination aspect, I'm highly influenced by the old game Netrek if anyone is familiar. That is sort of the core gameplay I am going for though want to expand the depth with some aspects of LoL and other techniques as well. Netrek is around 2 teams of 12 players each or so, and coordination is important for your team to win. But a key discovery I realized is that the game is still incredibly enjoyable even when some players are newbies. Yes-- a ranked game is even better, but on any given pickup game we would have about 70% of the players being experienced and 30% being newer players that didn't know what they were doing to some degree. With too many newer players it does get frustrating as there aren't even people playing for the strategy (eg playing for their team to win), they are just dogfighting without purpose.

But to me, the challenges of coordination is not entirely a problem but more of a good thing. That is what makes a good team game fun-- your ability to rally other players and motivate them for a coordinated attack, defense or whatever other operation. That is part of what makes multiplayer games fun -- you ping or use ventrilo to ask for an attack, and you really don't know if 3, 4, or 5 of your teammates will make it to the battle in time. Even if the players are experienced, they may ignore your orders and instead stop for ammo or health, or get ambushed (eg a Spy uncloaks and attacks them on the way to a battle in Team Fortress 2) or what have you. Rather than this being a disadvantage, I see this as a huge plus. I don't want every battle to be the same 10 players lining up-- I want there to be chaos to some degree. I want to hear things like "oh man, Engineer your sentry isn't up yet get that going now, we can't hold them!". It is the unanticipated lack of coordination, variability of battles, suboptimal positioning etc that makes games fun, otherwise they would be the same thing over and over again.

That said, while I have seen (Netrek) games where 12 v 12 etc work very well in terms of gameplay, I am planning on an expanded player base for the full game. I'm still early in the planning stage of the game so this isn't locked down yet, but I am thinking of around 250 players divided up in 2 (or more) teams as a sort of benchmark for the full version. That is an order of magnitude increase from Netrek so I realize coordination is going to be a big (perhaps defining) issue/aspect of the game.

My idea here, is that there will be a second "class" of players. They will be the commanders, and they will be given a different interface. An Admiral will be in charge of each race and will not be fighting at the tactical level, but rather more of a resource management level and strategic level. A friend suggested they even play on a different platform, eg PC instead of iPad, but I'm leaning on keeping it all iPad. So you can almost think of it as in on each team 1 player is playing a game that somewhat more resembles a RTS game (Starcraft) while the other 49 players are playing a more 2D starship battles game, with a few players in between on scale.

This "Admiral's interface" is what lead to us brainstorming about switching this from a 2 team to 5 team game. We were wondering if managing resources and directing general sub-squads would be enough to keep the Admiral busy. It very well may be. But we added in the possibility of on top of all that, they are playing a diplomatic game, messaging the other Admirals as well and allying / backstabbing them at a strategic level. In terms of whether all of the individual starship players/pilots follow the Admirals' orders exactly? I know they won't and I'm counting on it to make the battles realistic and fun. But, the hope is with some of them (the players who actually care about teamwork, winning the game etc) listening to the Admiral, there will be an overall sense that the game isn't just about dogfighting but something more strategic too.

#14 Orymus3   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 6356

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Posted 04 September 2012 - 02:27 PM

Finite resources tend to push the player out of their home.
Dune2 did remarkably well with this, perhaps better than any rts so far... Look it up :)

#15 jefferytitan   Members   -  Reputation: 1688

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Posted 04 September 2012 - 03:38 PM

I was thinking about the admiral controlling players side of things. Controlling players can be like herding cats. However, if you make it worth their while.... How about the admiral controls the boring yet necessary NPCs, e.g. harvesters, shipyards, supply lines, weak drone fighters, etc. If the players want support, they need to compromise with the admiral. If the admiral is moving the supply lines left and players go right.... uh, good luck getting more ammo for that big gun.

#16 starbasecitadel   Members   -  Reputation: 694

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Posted 04 September 2012 - 06:56 PM

Finite resources tend to push the player out of their home.
Dune2 did remarkably well with this, perhaps better than any rts so far... Look it up Posted Image

Thanks! I remember briefly playing Dune 1 about 13 years ago. Of all places, an acquaintance who worked as a play tester for the company that made the Thief game showed me their office and we did a bit of the game. The Spice must flow. Posted Image

I was thinking about the admiral controlling players side of things. Controlling players can be like herding cats. However, if you make it worth their while.... How about the admiral controls the boring yet necessary NPCs, e.g. harvesters, shipyards, supply lines, weak drone fighters, etc. If the players want support, they need to compromise with the admiral. If the admiral is moving the supply lines left and players go right.... uh, good luck getting more ammo for that big gun.

Great idea. You are definitely going to pay more attention to your Admiral if they have control of the supply chain and influence your own upgrades. This part I have almost nothing mapped out yet, only the vague idea of NPC mining/harvester ships that are under the at least indirect guidance of the Admiral. I was even toying with the possibility of having PC's play the harvester ships but it just doesn't sound fun enough, since this is designed to be a fast-paced combat arena game, not EVE online.

This raises one of the major gameplay decisions, which I haven't really touched yet, which is exactly how big of a role will NPC's have in the game. Initially I was thinking it would be a small role, limited to mostly just harvester ships. However more recently, I've begun to think of the possibilities of a significant set of NPCs, from all sorts of support as you mention, to combat ships (which can help as snowball mechanisms and to some degree even anti-turtling). It could even be expanded to a space "jungle" to use LoL terminology. The space jungle would help achieve another significant design goal, which is help give reasons for the starships to spread out. While I do want to see some epic "all-in" battles, particularly during a major assault (on a Starbase or Citadel), that should not be the norm. Most of the game should involve smaller scale warfare.

#17 starbasecitadel   Members   -  Reputation: 694

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Posted 05 September 2012 - 04:29 PM

Does anyone have feedback with this as a possible general solution to Kingsmaker:

Teams weak enough to realistically have little chance of winning (and thus are at risk for potentially becoming Kingsmakers) should get eliminated by game mechanics before they reach that point. When such an elimination occurs, a progressive rebalancing algorithm kicks in such that the weakest teams are helped more than the strongest teams.

The obvious problems I see with this approach is that first of all, you will sometimes be kicking teams out that while weak, still could have ended up winning. Yeah, it might be a stretch, but the players might still have been enjoying the game even knowing they are losing.

The second problem is just one of fairness. The stronger team(s) might get resentful of the rebalancing. It would not be a full rebalance where everyone is equal again-- the strongest team would still be the strongest, but it may feel as they are being punished for success.

Still perhaps those are not as bad problems to have as Kingsmaking.

Edited by starbasecitadel, 05 September 2012 - 04:30 PM.


#18 Osidlus   Members   -  Reputation: 640

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Posted 05 September 2012 - 05:36 PM

To me it feel like you need to use Texas holdem technique of blinds to reduce the tediousity and also to deal with the kingmaker. Blinds must go from the table so the kingmakers' chips will not be used on pushing on one of the dominant factions though. So it looks that you need some neutral forces ala wrath-of-nature pushing harder and harder... maybe power of their attacking can be reduced by keep moving and not to stagnate somwhere. In combination with minefields (created by the earlier dominant player who was there already) this might supress kingmaker a bit ;-)

Have been thinking why the blinds in the poker game are so well accepted...the number one is probably that everybody "suffers" at the same rate transparently, second blinds also gives a chance - if you have a nice hand and you are low on the chips this way you can hide behind the blind for a while, third - its kind of classy - for example for Duna game the attacks of the worms would be classy too. For a generic battleship game (I dont know the background) I don't know. There probably some other reasons...

Edited by Osidlus, 06 September 2012 - 12:45 PM.


#19 jefferytitan   Members   -  Reputation: 1688

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Posted 05 September 2012 - 05:57 PM

A catastrophe could work... e.g. the sun nearest the weakest player goes nova. Everybody gets hurt, the weakest player most of all. If they can fight back from that... good on them.

#20 starbasecitadel   Members   -  Reputation: 694

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Posted 11 September 2012 - 04:49 PM

Have been thinking why the blinds in the poker game are so well accepted...the number one is probably that everybody "suffers" at the same rate transparently, second blinds also gives a chance - if you have a nice hand and you are low on the chips this way you can hide behind the blind for a while


Yeah. I think in particular the idea you can breathe a sigh of release so to speak once you've paid that big blind is good. It's kind of like giving you a build in break where you can worry about defense a little bit less.

I was even thinking of such a literal copying of the blinds idea as having an external enemy invasion event that rotates around hitting each player in turn. Small blind is one of your two bases is attacked by a couple pirate or alien ships, big blind is both of your bases get attacked (or perhaps double the force size if you only have one base).


wormholes continued:

Switching back to the idea of taking some elements from the game Diplomacy, one thing I struggled with is Diplomacy is turn based, whereas in this game it is more real-time. By turn based, in Diplomacy you submit your orders all at once (eg hidden), and only once all players have submitted them do you reveal who did what and thus get to see any backstabs, attacks, etc unfold. Unfortunately, I have chosen to have full vision, so as it stands now you can see any attack coming easily.

So one partial solution to that is to create a periodic event to allow for more devious moves. Initially, I was thinking that wormholes could be open up at any time (provided you have resources for it and are near a wormhole point etc). However, now I'm thinking that the wormholes will only be openable on this period of "wormhole" events. Initially, I was also envisioning the wormholes as having predefined entrances/exits, but now I'm thinking it would be better if you can select, with perhaps some limitation, the wormhole exits. 20 seconds before it is "wormhole time", all players get a warning. Between 15 seconds and 5 seconds before the wormhole starts, players in the right locations (adjacent to a wormhole tunnel opening) with the right resources can click on it as well as the target location to start the summoning process. Nobody besides the summoning player can see where the wormhole endpoint will be. 5 seconds to 0 seconds before the event, wormhole initiation is locked; summoning cannot be undone. Also, ships must be placed in the wormhole entrance at this time. Then, the event starts and all wormholes are activated, for everyone to instantly see. Ships who entered wormhole entrances are teleported to the wormhole exits. The wormholes are locked (inactive/unusable) for the next 15 seconds, and then are activated bidirectionally for 2 minutes and then the event is over.

So you would be able to see teams assembling a large force at one of their own planets, in preparation for a major assault, but you wouldn't know where they were going until the wormhole event which then actually activates these wormholes. And of course the whole idea here is to encourage coordinated attacks (2 races joining against a 3rd) and backstabs.




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