Ruts vs. Battlespire CH16: Wrathlmania

By Rutskarn Posted Wednesday Jul 13, 2016

Filed under: Lets Play 80 comments

It can be difficult to keep a dungeon crawl fresh and engaging. They’re about as industrial as adventures get–each one pits a walking, talking power tool against about a thousand feet of barely-sapient lumber, the occasional gotcha riddle, and traps just powerful enough to be genuinely obnoxious. Sometimes to keep the player’s interest you need to shake things up a little, and the designers of Battlespire are exactly smart enough to know that.

So this level’s filled with nigh-invulnerable fast-moving wraiths with both ranged and melee attacks. They’re literally more likely to break your weapon than die to attacks and have no obvious weaknesses. They can’t be slowed down, stopped, or reasoned with. There’s only two or three of them in every room.

There's actually in-game documents you find very early in the level telling you not to engage them because they're unkillable. I'd say that's an example of a lie that's truer than truth.
There's actually in-game documents you find very early in the level telling you not to engage them because they're unkillable. I'd say that's an example of a lie that's truer than truth.

Now, there IS a way to defeat these guys: you find an optional, hidden codeword near the end of the level that banishes them. Alternately, you can get rid of all of them at once by uninstalling Battlespire and chewing the CD to splinters, a strategy I believe recommended by the official Prima booklet.

Also infesting level 3 are daedra called “Morphoid Oathkin.” As you’re probably aware, daedra are organized by type and tend to have very specialized places in the hierarchy. Scamps are scouts and foot soldiers, seducers are spies and ambassadors, and morphoids let you win arguments with lore pedants who say “Actually, daedra aren’t demons,” because look at these assholes.

The pitchfork? I'm a farmer, you dick. I was GONNA give you a free bushel of rhubarb.
The pitchfork? I'm a farmer, you dick. I was GONNA give you a free bushel of rhubarb.

They talk like a voice actor endeavoring to be smug who’s never, ever felt anything to be smug about. It’s probably my favorite performance to date. They have the dark laid-back charm of a Vampire LARPer flirting in-character with the Olive Garden waitress.

So from the decor and monster themes it looks like I’ve stumbled into a massive crypt. There’s some stained glass windows and conversations that point to the lore behind what this crypt is and why it’s infested with immortal jerkass security ghosts, and you’re free to look that up if you really want to, but I’d rate my level of interest as “endangered.” When absolutely everything’s trying to kill you, you don’t rent the guided tour headset. You press calmly but firmly for the gift shop.

In between trying not to die, getting the local color Hooked on Ionics, and trying to find a new place not to die, I stumble into a hallway with about twenty placards in it. Three placards picked at random all have the same perfunctory, summary note informing me there’s some random burial info on there. In a shitty roleplaying game, this would mean you have to read every placard in the room because one of them has critical information on it.

And it was so.
And it was so.

Please note how that placard doesn’t just contain a few secretly useful sentences–its description clearly states it has five pictures of coffins with short verses on them. In a room full of long text lists, basic graphic design dictates it’d be the first thing anyone would notice. But basic graphic design hasn’t informed anything about this game so far, including the basic graphic design, and lord knows this isn’t where it’s going to start.

Before long I run into an apparent dead end. I’m briefly confused before I realize I’m probably meant to take a plunge into one of this environment’s swimming pools. I admit that the four water-breathing potions I’ve found this level were a minor clue.

Fun fact: thanks to this game's deceptively bunged-up jumping system, getting up onto the six-inch raised platform around the pool was surprisingly tricky.
Fun fact: thanks to this game's deceptively bunged-up jumping system, getting up onto the six-inch raised platform around the pool was surprisingly tricky.

So let’s say you’ve just loaded up Battlespire for the first time. You’ve gotten through the hard part of character creation, which is figuring out how the mouse works and which of the buttons to click on, and you have finally come to the really really hard part, which is picking which skills your character should have. You review your options soberly–impressive, because you are drunk–and finally, radiating confidence and forethought, you drop a good seventy-five points into Swimming.

So what if I told you that this point, halfway through the game, is the first time I’ve gotten to swim anywhere?

And what if I told you that even without using any of the half-dozen water breathing potions in my inventory, even without spending any skills largesse on Swimming, I didn’t come even close to running out of breath in this whole segment? What if I told you all that?

I’ll tell you “what if.” You’d believe me, that’s “what if.” You’d believe me–because if you’re still with me by now, we really are in this together.

That's how you know it's an old-school CRPG. There's a million skills and all but three of them are completely worthless.
That's how you know it's an old-school CRPG. There's a million skills and all but three of them are completely worthless.



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80 thoughts on “Ruts vs. Battlespire CH16: Wrathlmania

  1. Lachlan the Mad says:

    I’m pretty sure that Swimming being useless is a CRPG tradition, what with the original Deus Ex existing.

    Also, looks like you managed to equip a sword again! Good job!

    1. Echo Tango says:

      Yeah, but in Deus Ex, it was worthless because the rewards were small; In this game it’s worthless because it’s superfluous. Totally different. :P

      1. Hal says:

        There’s a total of one section in Deus Ex where swimming is somewhat necessary. (And, surprisingly, it’s not when you go to the underwater ocean lab.) During the escape from VersaLife, you’re shoved into sewers that empty into the city canals. In the midst of that, you have to go through a long pipe with only one place to stop for breath, and it has greasels in it.

        Can you survive this section without any points in swimming? Yes, but it’s difficult, especially if it’s your first time playing the game; even more so if you didn’t hold on to any weapons that would work underwater.

        1. Hector says:

          …Or you could just keep a breather mask. Or use a couple medkits. And you can just ignore the enemies. All of these are easier and use fewer resources than the valuable skill points.

          1. Hal says:

            Oh, absolutely. I think you even find a rebreather on a diver in the sewers. But as it’s the only part of the game with a considerable, time-limited amount of swimming, it’s the one place where the skill would see some use.

            (And to be fair, I think one rank of swimming was super cheap. It was something you could conceivably buy without ruining prospects for upgrading other skills.)

            1. PhoenixUltima says:

              I actually like to put in 1 point of swimming when I play Deus Ex, mostly because it’s, at you say, fairly cheap, and there are a few points where being able to swim slightly better is convenient, if not particularly useful.

    2. Andy says:

      It’s useless in pen&paper RPGs, too. Like a D&D 3e fighter is gonna bother spending one of his two points per level on Swim, when he’s got a baseline -20 or whatever to overcome. When you can just hold your breath and walk across the BOTTOM of a fairly wide body of water.

      1. Joe Informatico says:

        That’s why I’m a big fan of any P&P RPG that puts swimming, climbing, jumping, etc. under an umbrella skill of “Athletics” or whatever.

      2. DDO had it as a somewhat-useful skill, though, mostly because the first wilderness area has a decent bit of water and there’s at least one quest where at least one character NEEDS a good Swim skill. It’s not as common as in something like Morrowind, but it’s much more common than it’d be in a P&P campaign where no one considers getting on the boat.

    3. IFS says:

      My favorite thing about swimming in the original Deus Ex is that there is an augment, the aqua lung, that is specifically supposed to help with it but the far better augment to use with swimming though is the hp regen one (which might even go in the same slot if I remember right). Since drowning does damage over time to you it is possible to just tank through the damage with healing nanomachines which unlike the aqua-lung have uses on dry land.

      1. Hal says:

        Actually, that slot is either the Aqualung or Environmental Resistance (i.e. radiation/poison protection.)

        Of the two, the radiation resistance is far more useful, given how infrequent you swim in the game, but neither is truly necessary; I’ve never put upgrades into that slot until late in the game when I had most of the “important” slots maxed out already.

        1. Richard MacDonald says:

          People, people, enough! I’ve already got too many games (including Deus Ex: Everything Is Piss Yellow: Director’s Cut) on the go and I just don’t have the time to start a new game of Deus Ex again! Please, think of the children!

    4. tmtvl says:

      Except for Realms of Arkania 3, where your characters have to pass a swimming test. If they fail, you can drop something to try again. You get two re-rolls before the character simply drowns.

      1. I always giggle when someone brings those games up, because most of the time I imagine I’m the only one who has ever heard of them.

    5. Shameful confession time: I often put points into swimming in Deus Ex.

      In my defence, I’m such a nosy (and obsessively thorough) sod that I never had a shortage of points for more useful skills. And I really like swimming. And also in the game. So there.


    6. Duneyrr says:

      Also, Wizardry 7. If any characters have less than 10 skill points in swimming, stepping into any body of water will drown them instantly!

      1. Ninety-Three says:

        So does that mean that 1 through 9 points of swimming are useless?

        1. Syal says:

          1 through 9 let you survive drinking progressively larger glasses of water.

          1. Bryan says:

            “…And that was when my drinking problem started!”

            Oh, Airplane. :-)

    7. Alecw says:

      Wowwwww. A lot of people here never finished Deus Ex on Realistic. Swimming was fucking amazing. Cheap as chips and gave you several non-combat routes and massive loot caches throughout the game. As well as being a huge time-saver and quality of life buff. I usually max it. Aqualung was pretty stupid though.

      1. ***HUGS***

        Thank you, yes! :D I actually can’t remember if I ever completed DX on Realistic, I may have done. I replayed it a number of times. But a really good swimming skill paid for itself, iirc.

  2. The Rocketeer says:

    I’m surprised that Wrathmen (and Mistmen and Bonemen) existed before they appeared in Dawnguard. But not as surprised as I am that they lifted an element from Battlespire that hadn’t recurred in the interim.

    1. Da Mage says:

      There is that one really dedicated Battlespire developer that has stuck around all these years.

      The reason he isn’t in Todd Howard’s place is that he had something to do with the design of Battlespire.

      1. The Rocketeer says:

        How do you know it isn’t Todd Howard?

        1. Da Mage says:

          According to the internet, Todd Howard, the man, the myth, is not listed in the Battlespire credits.

          Though he is listed in Redguard, so we can blame him for that.

          1. Grudgeal says:

            Not listing himself on purpose to check if we’re paying attention or not sounds like exactly the kind of trick Todd Howard, the Man, the Myth, would play on the unsuspecting audience.

            1. MrGuy says:

              The dinosaurs pissed off Todd Howard once. Once.

    2. Gnoll Queen says:

      Yeah Rutskarn is in the Soul Cairn right now. (that sounds nice out loud). And yeah i think all the writing that Bethesda does is looking though the old lore at stuff they forgot about and expanding on those ideas. So it isn’t actually surprising that they used Battlespire lore. Well to me.

      I don’t think they ever used the other minor realms of oblivion in other games though: Shade Perilous, Chimera of Desolation, and Havoc Wellhead never appeared in any other games yet. I don’t know why. A little minor pocket Realm is a very good way of adding in a new sandbox area in DLC.

      1. Ninety-Three says:

        Those sound like character names.

        This summer, you won’t want to miss… Shade Perilous and Havoc Wellhead in their latest action-packed blockbuster: Chimera of Desolation!

        1. Mersadeon says:

          Yeah, I think my next Shadowrun-Decker is gonna be a full on old-school-videogames-nerd and Havoc Wellhead might be a fitting codename for him.

          1. IFS says:

            Give him a rank or two of Gremlins and you could name him Havok physics.

  3. Mersadeon says:

    > They have the dark laid-back charm of a Vampire LARPer flirting in-character with the Olive Garden waitress.

    As someone who has sat at a table in a real bar with a bunch of Werewolf-LARPers, ouch. Spot effing on, I immediately know what tone you mean.

    1. Hal says:

      The hosts of Fear the Boot refers to these types as “The Dark Lord of Denny’s.”

      It feels right.

      1. evileeyore says:

        Ouch. I’ve been there and witnessed that nonsense.

        1. Joe Informatico says:

          Well, I was there too and I never…

          Oh shit.

          It was me.

    2. Geebs says:

      If it’s not a full moon, do werewolf LARPers just behave normally?

      1. psivamp says:

        I’m going to go out on a proverbial limb and say that under no observable circumstances do Werewolf LARPers behave normally, particularly when it is their expressed intention to do so.

        Also, I’m sorry for being a dick. Someone already said what I wanted to say about LARPers.

      2. Mersadeon says:

        It’s Werewolf: The Whatevering, one of the Old World of Darkness titles. Werewolves there are somewhat tied to the moon and it’s phases, but they don’t necessarily turn during that time, they mostly turn on command in battle (with Muggles mostly forgetting about it due to “instinctive panic” with some fruity name).

        So they’re mostly roleplaying a bunch of violent spiritual warriors of various clans having some downtime.

    3. LCF says:

      So much cringe in that passage. This battlespire game surely is hell.

  4. Mersadeon says:

    To be fair, the whole “some skills are useless” was unfortunately a mainstay of RPGs, good or bad, of the time. Those skills were basically schmuck-bait.

    1. Matt Downie says:

      I suppose it was the ‘simulationist’ approach. Rather than worrying about game balance, you gave the player the tools to make the character they wanted, and made their choices do whatever they would logically do. It was up to the player to make an effective character within these constraints.

      1. Supah Ewok says:

        I’m guessing the reality is that in the course of game development, something that looked great on paper and was programmed in early was crushed by the crunch of the dev cycle. Swimming, mumblety-peg, and sashaying skills sound great when you’re brainstorming ideas for how to realize any player’s conception of their avatar, but you run out of time and money before you can actually figure out a way to meaningfully include them, and by the end of development taking out features is even more perilous than simply leaving them in.

        1. Dan Efran says:

          Sometimes features get out of balance during development of games, so maybe…but I think the swimming catch-22 is actually a more fundamental problem with RPG skills in general.

          The core of the problem is that rarely-used skills are rarely used.

          It makes perfect sense for an adventurer to learn how to swim – to put effort into being a better swimmer than the average civilian non-swimmer. There are lots of other skills that would be similarly handy, worth a point or two even if you don’t ever plan to advance far in most of them. Rock climbing, ballroom dancing, left-handed fencing, cheating at cards…whatever it may be. Skills you don’t use every day, or even every adventure, but once in a while they’re the perfect fit.

          Or even every adventure. Right. In a long tabletop campaign, a skill you don’t use every adventure will still pay off someday, and seem worthwhile. But in a computer RPG, the developers must ensure your skills are appropriate at some point in the current adventure. At some point – but not all the time!

          Whatever skill you chose, you want to feel it was a worthwhile choice. So there has to be “enough” of that activity in the game. But if there’s too much swimming or cheating at cards, the skill seems mandatory and the choice is no longer interesting.

          (For that matter, “I learned to swim, but only needed to do it once in this adventure” is a pretty out-of-character complaint. Maybe this isn’t truly a problem? From an in-character perspective, well, that’s just how adventuring is. You over-prepare, or you drown someday.)

          In tabletop gaming, having a free choice of skills is workable specifically because it’s the GM’s responsibility to find out what skills the players chose, and then adapt the scenario to provide satisfying chances to exercise those skills.

          In general, computer games run you through a pre-written adventure (whether it’s a straight path or a branching tree). They don’t alter the scenario itself to suit the character build. If the game engine quietly inserted more swimming scenes into the game for players with swim skill, and more dancing scenes for the dance experts, these problems would go away. Again, a good pen-and-paper GM knows she must do this.

          1. IFS says:

            One solution to this is to lump skills together into more generic groupings, for example a blanket ‘athletics’ skill to cover swimming, running, climbing, etc. Pillars of Eternity does this, having only six skills that each cover a few different tasks (though some such as stealth are more limited than others), can be used in conversation, and in some cases can provide other benefits (Athletics grants a second wind ability for example). Morrowing and Oblivion did the Athletics example as well, though I never felt like it was a terribly useful skill there.

            1. Hal says:

              My favorite system right now is Fate Accelerated, which actually does away with this issue by exchanging skills for Approaches. Approaches work similar to skills by modifying your dice rolls when you want to perform an action, but you’re not rolling for what you’re doing but how you’re doing it.

              For example, most games will have an associated skill for punching someone in the face. In Fate Core, it’s the “Fight” skill. Whatever you say you’re doing, you end up rolling the Fight skill. But in Fate Accelerated, if I say I creep around a corner and then wallop a guy in the back of the head, that would be a Sneaky roll. If I say I’m walking right up to him and delivering my biggest, wind-uppiest haymaker, that’s a Forceful roll. If I declare that I’m going to leap over a table and then vault myself off of a pillar before Superman-punching the guy, that’s a Flashy roll.

              I love this system because it puts the personality and predilections of the characters first over their actual proficiencies, and you aren’t left with the dilemma of having to choose between combat and non-combat skill choices.

              1. Syal says:

                “How are you approaching the fight?”


              2. Sleeping Dragon says:

                This reminds me of… I think it was an 8bit Theater comic strip, where someone was explaining how rather than divide the points between many skills the thief could just maximise the steal skill: they don’t need to pick locks, they can just steal the lock out of the door.

            2. WJS says:

              Erm, Athletics useless in Morrowind and Oblivion? Didn’t that skill control stamina regen? Like, the difference between throwing one punch and needing to sit down for a minute, and just throwing haymaker after haymaker? Sure, all a mage is going to use it for is running away, but anyone who’s at least a little bit interested in melee combat needs a good score in Athletics.

          2. My gaming groups tend to run modules and so forth a lot, so we generally feel it’s the GM’s responsibility to tell the players enough about what they’re likely to encounter to make informed choices. For instance, we did a pirate islands game where it would be IDIOTIC not to put at least a FEW points in Swim and Profession: Sailor, even though those are insanely useless skills in most modules.

            Unfortunately, this has backfired a few times when the “game theme” and the modules the GM pulled out did not mesh very well. Subjecting your group to a lengthy module where NONE of the characters are set up to deal with the main enemy is torturous. “Oh, everyone is a rogue. Let’s fight nothing but undead and constructs for three months.”

            From a system perspective, if you’re going to have “flavor” skills and abilities, the way you should handle it is to have them use A DIFFERENT POINT SYSTEM than the ones used for “essential” skills and abilities. That way investing in flavor doesn’t make your character worse in combat, and vice versa.

            This is where games like D&D screw up. Stealth and Trapping shouldn’t be “skills” because they are combat/conflict abilities and should be treated as such. But instead they introduced “skill challenges” and tried to make all skills work like combat. Ugh.

            1. ZekeCool says:

              Sounds to me like someone played Carrion Crown

        2. Abnaxis says:

          Depending on the skill, there are actually times I like having the inferior extras, because it can make for a fun “challenge” replay. Like, doing a fully-naked run of Morrowind works because there’s an Unarmored and Unarmed skill, even if those skills ultimately perform worse than their contemporaries

          Depending on the system, this can even work for swimming, rock climbing, etc. In TES games, for example, you used to have Attributes based on your skills–if you wanted to do a “no combat prowess” run, you could hypothetically train yourself in swimming to increase your strength and/or endurance.

      2. Dev Null says:

        Yeah, anyone who looks at a fantasy world full of vicious slavering monsters and thinks “I want to be able to swim _really_ well” probably gets what they paid for.

  5. Grudgeal says:

    So, in short, you’d have been better off sinking those 75 points in Toaster Repair instead like any sane player would.

    1. MrGuy says:

      Meh. Toaster Repair is largely worthless because the toaster has to be broken before you can fix it. With Maintain Small Kitchen Appliance, you can keep any toasters you have from breaking in the first place, as well your blenders, waffle irons, and of course the juicer.

      Sure, there’s 1 or 2 completely broken toasters you find that you can’t get without Toaster Repair, but for the savings in other items alone you can easily buy a few extra toasters.

      1. Bubble181 says:

        Sure, but deliberately busting and repairing your toasters over and over is an easy way to gain experience and copper pieces, making it somewhat useful in the early game.

      2. Decius says:

        You act like Toaster Repair locks you out of MSKA. In a proper party, each member specializes in a different subset of skills. Having some cross-functionality is good, so make sure that your appliance maintainer and toaster repairer are two different people, so that your cook isn’t totally hosed if one part member is out of commission.

        1. Bespectacled Gentleman says:

          Honestly, I always leave my toaster repairman at camp. Having two dishwashers armed with proper soap and brushes lets you drop the long cooldowns on the chef’s abilities and make some ridiculous combos. By the time you get to the dungeons of the Skullery Lord, C’tcheen, you’ll have a ton of high-level recipes that don’t need toasters anyway; and once you get the convection oven…

          1. I tried investing in that fancy Induction Hob path once. Sounds flashy enough and can certainly get the job done, but has some regrettable item restrictions and can mess with more classical combat cookery styles.

            1. Syal says:

              Am I the only one who invests in Microwavables and just eats the loss?

              1. MrGuy says:

                That’s how I did my entire first playthrough, and the game even sort of steers you in that direction in a few places.

                The problem is the stat gains are so small going that route that you have to be level 80+ to survive in Kitchen Stadium to get to the end boss. Which means it’s grind, grind, grind in the Salt Mines, which gets tedious.

                Just upgrading from a microwave to a toaster oven gives +5 to all those frozen pizzas you encounter starting in Act 2, and that adds up fast.

                1. Yeah, but you really kind of need the Microwave in that secret Cold Coffee mini-game, so it’s worth keeping one to hand!

    2. tmtvl says:

      Indeed, at least you can get some stuff for energy weapons.

      1. Is this why Wasteland 2 has a “Toaster Repair” skill?

        1. Ninety-Three says:

          Aw, someone ruined the joke by indicating to everyone that Toaster Repair is a real thing.

          So to fully ruin it, Toaster Repair was a skill in Wasteland 1, the 1988 game. It was half joke, half absurdly-niche-simulationist-bullshit. The game contained precisely three broken toasters which could be repaired, and that would earn you loot.

          Wasteland 2 then proceeded to honour Wasteland’s legacy by missing the joke of the skill being absurdly niche, and scattered dozens of loot-dispensing toasters throughout its world.

          1. WJS says:

            It’s hardly fair to say that wanting it to be a joke (as in funny) skill without being a joke (as in useless) skill means they didn’t get the joke.

    3. Bespectacled Gentleman says:

      Just to be clear: we’re literally describing Kingdom of Loathing here, right?

  6. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Swimming is always broken because it is either essential,in which case therell always be a potion of swimming or some such thing,or its optional,in which case youll never find anything good while swimming.

    1. Ninety-Three says:

      And then there’s Dwarf Fortress. It lets you put any number of skill points into swimming, and it’s essential to take exactly one rank. The difference between rank one and rank fifteen is that your swim speed improves a bit. The difference between rank zero and rank one is that you start drowning the instant you touch water. And Dwarf Fortress is a game where if you’re fighting next to water, your character will automatically dodge one square to the north before plummeting to their doom Wile E Coyote style.

      1. MelTorefas says:

        Just want to express my agreement as a fellow Dwarf Fortress player. One point to change water from ‘blue lava’ to ‘why do I have to leave fast travel to cross this river’. Now, if only I could consistently recruit companions who followed this advice…

      2. Alex says:

        Dwarf Fortress also gives you an alternative: waterboarding. Just build a mechanized room that fills and empties with water faster than your dwarf can drown, then send him to stand there for a bit while you train him to swim.

      3. Philadelphus says:

        Ah yes, Dwarf Fortress. I too have lost adventurers with zero levels in swimming to duck ponds.

        Though on the flip side, no one else in the world in Adventure mode seems to have any levels in swimming either, so as a challenge I once massacred most of a town by getting everyone to chase me around some nearby ponds, then charging and knocking them into the water one by one.

        1. Bespectacled Gentleman says:

          Reminds me of a certain DF LP (whose name I do not recall) in which one of those unstoppable combat gods that occasionally arise in a fortress, the sort that could beat a bronze colossus to death with their bare hands without a scratch, just fell into a pond and drowned.

    2. guy says:

      I actually like it just for the mobility in Bethesda open world RPGs. I kinda miss being able to fight underwater; my first-ever Bethesda character was an Argonian in Oblivion who went sword-fishing shortly after leaving the sewers.

      1. GloatingSwine says:

        Although you couldn’t fight underwater in Skyrim, you could hide in water. If you were an Argonian you could basically play a crododile, lurking underwater until the enemy forgot you existed and then ambushing it repeatedly. Even the merest pool of water worked as long as you could get underwater in it because enemies not underwater couldn’t see you.

        Was good for cheesing enemies you shouldn’t have been fighting.

  7. Abnaxis says:

    I want to take this opportunity to congratulate you on a well-titled entry. I was chuckling before I even started reading

    1. MichaelGC says:

      Oof! That title is so punful as to make one angry.

  8. Jsor says:


    I see Mumbles has begun ghostwriting this series.

    1. MrGuy says:

      I think Ruts is just trying to keep the episode title in the spirit of the core gameplay.

      1. When it comes to puns, Ruts puts us all in the shade.

  9. natureguy85 says:

    You reminded me of TotalBiscuit’s retro-look at Deus Ex. “Don’t pick swimming.” While not useful enough to waste limited points on, there were at least plenty of places to swim.

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