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Classic Games (Games) Games

Game Historian: Gygax Swiped Fantasy Rules From a Forgotten 1970 Wargame (blogspot.com) 139

An anonymous reader writes: According to game historian Jon Peterson, Gary Gygax's Chainmail fantasy wargame (which became the basis for Dave Arneson's Blackmoor and later Dungeons & Dragons) borrowed heavily from an earlier set of rules published by Leonard Patt, a long-forgotten member of the New England Wargamers Association. Among the appropriations were rules for heroes and wizards including the iconic fireball spell, which ended up in everything from Magic: the Gathering to World of Warcraft, as well as monster rules for dragons, orcs, ents, and other Tolkien creations. Gygax had something of a reputation for borrowing things without giving proper credit, and this latest revelation shows how the open and collaborative environment of early gaming was quickly exploited for commercial purposes.
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Game Historian: Gygax Swiped Fantasy Rules From a Forgotten 1970 Wargame

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  • And that guy (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday January 21, 2016 @03:55PM (#51345899)

    ... And that guy stole it from something else, which got it from some other dude, who took it from the Bible, which stole it from the pagans, who got it from Ancient Aliens.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday January 21, 2016 @04:47PM (#51346319)
      Ancient Aliens who got it from time travelers from the future, who got it from the library of congress of The Disney States of the Western Hemisphere, who got it from Disney Games, who got it from Parkbro, who got is from Hasbro, who got it from Wizards of the Coast, who got it from TSR, who got it from Gygax.
    • Notice that article even says "...it was a game based on J.R.R. Tolkien's trilogy of fantasy "Lord of the Rings"."

      DID PATT PROPERLY ATTRIBUTE *HIS* RULES TO THE TOLKIEN PROPERTIES? /sarcasm

      First, the entire world of 'gaming' back then was syncretic and collaborative. Chainmail was never (by anyone knowledgeable) considered to have sprung wholly formed from the forehead of Gygax.

      Further, attribution wasn't anywhere near the priority then that it would be once these actually took shape as commercial products

    • I always thought the game developers at TSR were a bit of a Rogues Gallery
  • And... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by creimer ( 824291 ) on Thursday January 21, 2016 @03:56PM (#51345905) Homepage
    Shakespeare stole everything he read for his plays, including making up new words for the English language. In short, so what?
    • Re:And... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by mujadaddy ( 1238164 ) on Thursday January 21, 2016 @04:09PM (#51346007)
      Headline is pure bait: the blog poster makes no generalization such as "swiping", as wargaming rules were in constant flux, even from session to session.
      • Re:And... (Score:5, Funny)

        by space_jake ( 687452 ) on Thursday January 21, 2016 @05:09PM (#51346447)
        It wasn't swiping. Swiping is clearly defined on page 125. The ability Gygax used mimiced this power but isn't defined as swiping and therefore not subject to defined swiping rules.
        • I see what you did there...

          ...and it makes me want to talk about how creating a "Book of Law" propagated the "Rules Lawyers", how publishing a 'zine and charging mimeograph money was a better environment for creative play than selling a million copies and having it adopted as some kind of standard, and maybe how rules meant for fair war gaming between equivalent sides really have no place in a roleplaying game...

          ...but that's kind of depressing, so never mind.

        • It wasn't swiping. Swiping is clearly defined on page 125.

          Also, he made his saving throw vs. swiping.

    • Idea owners unite? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by s.petry ( 762400 ) on Thursday January 21, 2016 @04:16PM (#51346065)

      The summary pretty much says it all. The person want's to claim that the "Fireball" used in every game from 1970 to present including all of the big MMOs was from some guy who GG stole from. WTF? In reality, the Fireball goes back many many thousands of years. The "gods" threw fire and lightning. Shot was thrown as well as spears, so guess which one was the spear and which was the shot?

      People want to push this idea that if you change a label you somehow "invented" something. Society must owe something to somebody at all times. "You didn't make that!" right? Sheesh. The cynic in me just ignores this concept after lashing out at the idiocy.

      • by cfalcon ( 779563 ) on Thursday January 21, 2016 @06:35PM (#51347019)

        Maybe read the article?

        Fireball in Dungeons and Dragons is a particular spell with particular rules, and it has ABSOLUTELY BEEN COPIED STRAIGHT in many cases since then.

        If you are disputing that Chainmail took "fire ball" from this guy, read the article- the rules specifics are way too much to be a coincidence (including the specifics of saving throws for heroes, and how they interact with Dragons).

        If you are disputing that most of the modern gaming fireballs descend from Dungeons and Dragons / Chainmail / This guy, I don't know what to tell you, other than this is very unlikely. The idea of fire being used to attack is universal in human culture and mythology, but the specific visualization in question has some pretty clear pedigree. They aren't talking about the generic idea of an attack with fire, after all.

      • by Ghostworks ( 991012 ) on Thursday January 21, 2016 @06:36PM (#51347035)

        The summary uses the most stilted possible working for the facts presented in the article. (In other words, the summary is accurate, it just has a much more accusatory tone. Also, the article is 2 pages printed: people can stop being lazy and just read it.)

        But you, petry, are also putting on blinders. The D&D fireball is what WoW and Magic cribbed from, because it's the famous fireball. (And if by "the gods" you just mean Zeus, then yes, things were thrown: lightning, not fire.) D&D linked fireball and wizards in peoples' minds. Chainmail is the basis of D&D, and now we find Chainmail cribbed from another game, which is interesting. Nobody is trying to claim ownership or copyright or patent or whatever the people who only read the summary seem to believe. Certainly no one is looking for a settlement or royalty or free Arby's sandwich or whatever your feel angry about them "wanting".

        Here are the facts:

        * The mechanical roots of D&D are Chainmail. Chainmail's Fantasy appendix is more limited in scope to Tolkien than D&D would become. At one point Gygax called the Fantasy rules that became the most popular part of it, "an afterthought". Until now, the line of thought was that the wizard's fireball and lightning (the only spells they had in Chainmail) were respective fantasy versions of Medieval catapult and Napoleonic cannon rules. It is illuminating to find otherwise.

        * The mechanics of the Fantasy appendix use similar terms, identical mechanics, and generally numbers within +/-1 of the rules of Patt. It's directly cribbed. The other author of Chainmail, Jeff Perren, is on the subscription list for the very issue where Patt's rules are printed. There's no real doubt.

        * Gary Gygax did take from everything without attribution. In Dragon he presented aerial combat for D&D as "Battle in the Skies", never mentioning the rules are identical to those in Avalon Hill's "Fight in the Skies" board wargame. The thief class of later D&D was invented by Wagner of the Aero Hobbies crew and shared with Gygax by and Switzer of the same group: he later rolled his own version to market, but to many on the outside (and inside) it looked like he just stole it whole because there was no attribution. Pretty much the only time he did attribute is when he didn't want to type out the rules anew, such as when D&D refers the reader to Chainmail for combat rules and to the Outdoor Survival boardgame for overland journeys. This is how the hobby worked back then, and this friction is what happens when a friendly hobby becomes a real business.

    • Shakespeare stole everything he read for his plays, including making up new words for the English language.

      I'm not sure it's possible to steal something you yourself made up.

    • Re:And... (Score:5, Informative)

      by PlayingAtTheWorld ( 4424921 ) on Thursday January 21, 2016 @06:04PM (#51346827)
      I wrote this article (sorry, I have no karma here, so I imagine this comment may plummet into the void), and I am frustrated to see the clickbaity way it's presented here. Wargaming was a very open and collaborative environment where ideas moved quite fluidly: this is the fun of studying it, actually, as tracing ideas over time is quite a challenge. The message I was trying to get across here is that Chainmail, to say nothing of the many, many games that built on its system and setting, owes an unacknowledged debt to Patt. I think this is big news for people who care about the origins of gaming today.

      The debt isn't the idea of a fireball or whatever; fireballs are something that have long existed in fact and fiction. But identifying the original fantasy game to feature the fireball mechanic is an important historical question. The fireball that Patt seems to have invented has a lot of very specific features: it explodes at range (24 inches in game), you get a saving throw against it, but no save if you're a dragon as it instead drives you away for one turn, and so on. These are all system mechanics that Chainmail used, and which thus inspired D&D. That we owe some amount of the credit for that to someone other than the stated authors of Chainmail is noteworthy.

      It would be like if we hadn't known that Shakespeare had relied on Holinshed for his stories, and someone had just now proved it by a textual analysis. Well, okay, Chainmail isn't Shakespeare. But you get the idea. Shakespeare didn't "swipe" Holinshed, he built on that narrative and other influences to make something new and amazing. Everything is a remix. But that makes discovering what got remixed exactly all the more important.
      • Re:And... (Score:4, Interesting)

        by TWX ( 665546 ) on Thursday January 21, 2016 @06:20PM (#51346925)
        Sounds to me like the idea of refining a set of rules, then someone else looking at those rules and refining a new set of rules based on what they saw. I admit that I am not a tabletop gamer, but when I've been around where people have been playing I haven't seen them use inches in-game as units. I've seen some battletech tabletop gaming where distance and vector were employed, but converted to units to scale in the game rather than in human terms.

        Another consideration is how codified the gaming rules were prior to Gygax's part. If Patt's rules were not hard fixed rules but were more along the lines of guidelines or house rules that spread organically through play with random people, then while it could be argued that Gygax shouldn't have owned any intellectual rights over those rules, Patt also might not have been able to claim rights either.

        In some ways look at games like Tag or Hide and Go Seek, or any other of a multitude of kids games where guidelines exist but hard-fast rules are only adopted when the games commence. Depending on how Patt's rules spread, they may have been a lot more along those lines.
        • The articles doesn't make any claim about intellectual property or copyright, it's about the path of transmission of ideas, of what built on what. If no one today knows of Patt's rules or their relationship to Chainmail, they won't be able to even ask the sorts of question you're posing. The article's purpose is to rescue Patt from total obscurity.
      • The ownership of ideas has gotten way out of whack in the US.Here's an example of before copyright, and after: the blues has a long tradition of authors "using", "stealing", call it what you want, from earlier authors. Robert Plant penned the lyrics to Killing Floor from an older classic by Howling Wolf, who cribbed his lyrics from Son House. Eric Clapton blatantly "stole" from Robert Johnson, who also borrowed from House, and before that House borrowed from "Negro Spirituals", slaves working cotton and sin
        • by rtb61 ( 674572 )

          No, they are stealing from everyone. By stealing from the public domain and then claiming it as your own, you are in fact fraudulently stealing from everyone by claiming copyright rules to enable you to actively destroy other peoples content. This based upon the false claim they stole original content from you, in spite of the reality when that they claim to draw it from the same original public domain content, this for no other reason that corrupt greed.

          By stealing first you can build up a financial war

        • by stjobe ( 78285 )

          “This song is Copyrighted in U.S., under Seal of Copyright # 154085, for a period of 28 years, and anybody caught singin it without our permission, will be mighty good friends of ourn, cause we don’t give a dern. Publish it. Write it. Sing it. Swing to it. Yodel it. We wrote it, that’s all we wanted to do.”
          - Woody Guthrie, typescript to "This Land Is Your Land"

          Also, perhaps not so incidentally "The melody came from a tune that A.P. Carter had found and recorded with Sarah and Maybell

          • by tepples ( 727027 )

            This song is Copyrighted in U.S., under Seal of Copyright # 154085, for a period of 28 years

            Explicitly disclaiming all subsequent renewals and extensions, I see. That was tried again later under the name Founders Copyright [creativecommons.org]

    • I write music in my spare time and I can guarantee I plagarise everyone who ever inspired my pretty much like every other composer/artist
      • by tepples ( 727027 )

        So what do you and your lawyer plan to do if some songwriter sees your spare time music, finds it too similar to his own work, and sues you for $150,000?

  • We get it (Score:5, Insightful)

    by JackieBrown ( 987087 ) <dbroome@gmail.com> on Thursday January 21, 2016 @03:59PM (#51345921)

    Gygax had something of a reputation for borrowing things without giving proper credit, and this latest revelation shows how the open and collaborative environment of early gaming was quickly exploited for commercial purposes.

    We get it. Commercial is bad. Everything should be non-profit. We should all make the same wage. We should all have the same stuff.

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Information wants to be free, provided you roll a 13 or above.
    • Re: (Score:2, Flamebait)

      Gygax had something of a reputation for borrowing things without giving proper credit, and this latest revelation shows how the open and collaborative environment of early gaming was quickly exploited for commercial purposes.

      We get it. Commercial is bad. Everything should be non-profit. We should all make the same wage. We should all have the same stuff.

      That's not the issue. Gygax represented himself as the sole creator and writer of D&D. He removed Arneson from the credits in a typical Stalinistic purge. I remember meeting him when he was sitting behind the counter at the Dungeon hobby shop in Wisconsin, and he was a complete jerk. But when you are copyrighting everything that you can to lock in revenue, you just don't give anyone else credit. Bastard. Cashing in on other people's work. But hey, it happens in IT all the time.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        And in the end, DDO has memorial gravestones to both Gary and Dave, in regions belong to quest packs where both men's awkward voice acting is semi-immortalized. Additionally their contributions to the game are further recognized with the Voice of the [game] Master (Gygax) and the Mantle of the Worldshaper (Arneson).

    • We get it. Commercial is bad. Everything should be non-profit. We should all make the same wage. We should all have the same stuff.

      Not sure where you're getting it from. Statement is pretty obviously about Gygax's habit of rewriting stuff to cut others out of the credit and royalties. Dave Arneson being the big one. Just from reading the linked articles, it turns out the rules for thieves were supposedly borrowed from other people's published articles too.

  • I get that Mr. Patt may have had no way to know his work had been appropriated, but once D&D became the national craze it did, why didn't he wonder to himself at the similarities?
    • by gstoddart ( 321705 ) on Thursday January 21, 2016 @04:16PM (#51346067) Homepage

      Maybe he did, and maybe it wasn't something he thought as entirely unusual?

      I remember reading Dragon magazine and going to the stores with the little lead figurines to paint ... this stuff was self-referential and constantly incorporating things from one another.

      Cartoons pulled in things from multiple sources.

      I sure as heck wasn't aware of all of it, but it seemed like at the time it was more of a fan-driven "hey isn't this cool" kind of thing, and the cross-pollination was kind of expected.

      And then it became greedy bastards like Wizards of the Coast who tried to decree like they'd invented the whole damned thing in a vacuum, when nothing could be further from the truth.

      These things were still being iterated and adapted.

      Acting like these things sprang into existence without the stuff around them is idiotic, unless of course you're a lawyer arguing copyright for someone who just bought something someone else built.

      Making it sound like Gygax ripped someone off is probably a little unfair to what actually happened.

      • And then it became greedy bastards like Wizards of the Coast who tried to decree like they'd invented the whole damned thing in a vacuum, when nothing could be further from the truth.

        Where are all the WoTC apologists to counter such an inflammatory statement?!?

        • And then it became greedy bastards like Wizards of the Coast who tried to decree like they'd invented the whole damned thing in a vacuum, when nothing could be further from the truth.

          Where are all the WoTC apologists to counter such an inflammatory statement?!?

          Here I am! Or at least, I have no idea what they're talking about.WoTC bought TSR and keep D&D alive basically as a pet project because they love the game. It certainly doesn't make enough money to keep their Hasbro masters happy, but they are allowed to have such pet projects as long as Magic does bring in the money.

          • Here I am! Or at least, I have no idea what they're talking about.WoTC bought TSR and keep D&D alive basically as a pet project because they love the game. It certainly doesn't make enough money to keep their Hasbro masters happy, but they are allowed to have such pet projects as long as Magic does bring in the money.

            While I would agree that Hasbro and WotC don't expect D&D to contribute much to the bottom line (although I suspect it does better than we might think), I imagine the current value in the property is the IP. The ability to have in your legal filing cabinet a bunch of prior art from the 70s goes a long way to keeping competitors out of your stuff.

        • We don't need any. All this stuff happened long before WoTC came in and bought it out so the assertion that they are pretending that they invented it is nonsensical. Whatever they've done since, good or bad, is building on something that only people going by blind guesswork would assume did not come from somewhere else long before that company existed.
      • And then it became greedy bastards like Wizards of the Coast who tried to decree like they'd invented the whole damned thing in a vacuum, when nothing could be further from the truth.

        Huh? They bought TSR in 1997 [cite wikipedia], long after D&D had been popular.

    • by Zak3056 ( 69287 )

      The story is just flamebait. In the linked wikipedia article (with the label "Gygax had something of a reputation for borrowing things without giving proper credit") the very first paragraph after the index references Gygax giving credit for it: "In his article "Jack Vance and the D&D Game", Gary Gygax stresses the influence that Vance's Cugel and also Zelazny's Shadowjack had on the thief class."

      I really, really dislike people that submit stories like this, and the "editor" that posted this should be

    • Perhaps he did notice and simply didn't care, or he in turn may have lifted it from some other more obscure source, in which case it wouldn't be prudent to raise a fuss about it.
  • That's why I only play Pathfinder.

  • by Forgefather ( 3768925 ) on Thursday January 21, 2016 @04:12PM (#51346035)

    This is ridiculous. You can't patent game mechanics and you can't get copyright on something as general as 'Fireball'. This is how the sharing of ideas was intended to work not some illicit theft of ideas.

    • Re: (Score:1, Offtopic)

      This should be the highest moderated comment here. Sadly, I have no mod points to give today.

    • by Sowelu ( 713889 )

      It doesn't sound like this was written with anything to do with copyright. It looks like it's just a matter of recognizing someone who was an early inspiration. What's wrong with studying the way that sharing of ideas happened?

      • It was the implication that something was wrong with what happened, that the concept of the 'Fireball' was somehow taken from another rather than having grown naturally out of the ideas of others and shared through the culture. On top of that nothing illegal or even immoral happened in the sharing of ideas that happened in exactly the way that it was supposed to.

        The summary truly comes from the mistaken belief that everything everywhere is owned and created by one easily traceable person.

      • It's a game for goodness sake, not a scholarly article. Not to mention that attribution might embroil you in some sort of lawsuit.
    • You can't patent game mechanics

      Not exactly, no (i.e., you can't patent "guy with gun runs around and shoots things" for FPS games) but a board game itself, complete with its rules, can be patented [ipwatchdog.com]. See the history of Monopoly [wikipedia.org] and how several different board game patents were bought up by Parker Bros. back in the day to be able to release the game.

      This, interestingly, actually works to the advantage of would-be game cloners because patents expire relatively quickly compared to copyrights. Consider Lat [lateforthesky.com]

    • by reanjr ( 588767 )

      Actually, you can patent game mechanics (in the USA at least). What you can't do is use copyright to impose restrictions on someone duplicating your game's mechanics without duplicating the wording or presentation.

      "Gloof and Ploff are Awesome" - intellectual property
      "Ugg and Sug are Awesome" - gets around Trademark, but likely infringes copyright
      "Ugg+Sug=Awesome" - free use unless the mechanics themselves are patented.

      • by reanjr ( 588767 )

        Of course, it has to be non-obvious that "Ugg+Sug=Awesome" for that idea to be patented.

    • by dbIII ( 701233 )

      This is ridiculous. You can't patent game mechanics and you can't get copyright on something as general as 'Fireball'. This is how the sharing of ideas was intended to work not some illicit theft of ideas.

      True, it's based on the ancient invention of greek fire - or should that be geek fire?

    • You can't patent game mechanics

      Nintendo's patent on Dr. Mario (U.S. Patent 5,265,888, now expired), Sega's patent on Crazy Taxi (used to sue the developer of The Simpsons: Road Rage), and Konami's patent on Dance Dance Revolution (cf. Konami v. Roxor) would beg to differ.

  • by LaurenCates ( 3410445 ) on Thursday January 21, 2016 @04:12PM (#51346043)

    ...how does one get to be a game historian and get paid for it?

    • by Gojira Shipi-Taro ( 465802 ) on Thursday January 21, 2016 @04:34PM (#51346215) Homepage

      I think you have to start as a Rules Lawyer and work your way up from there.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by The-Ixian ( 168184 )

      Step 1. Become disabled
      Step 2. Collect economic assistance from the state
      Step 3. Create business cards with "Game historian" printed on the front
      Step 4. Profit

    • by increm ( 3509623 )
      You don't get paid for it.
    • ...how does one get to be a game historian and get paid for it?

      You start with a childhood lover of D&D. You thenspend a few years trolling through library collection of old zines that were printed off of memograph machine in lots of ~100, looking for prototypical examples of rules that later crystalized in mass market products. You will need to supplement that with a working knowledge of the first 50 years of Weird fiction, when eventually split into Fantasy and golden-age science fiction. You then add that to a copious amount of personal reading on topics such as

      • I am not all that interested in the history of D&D, but my husband is. I'll be sure to toss some of this information his way. Thanks!

  • Since you can't copyright game mechanics, what's the significance of this. I made a board game for students to learn social studies and ripped off everything from Catan to Shogun to Diplomacy.
  • Something that TSR did not promote during the 80s and 90s was the hobbiest/sharing culture that got the whole ball rolling in the 70s. In many ways it paralled Bill Gates and the software industry. Playing the part of Stallman was Peter Adkinson, who started WotC. When WotC acquired TSR in the 00s, it was a boon to the RPG industry as the OGL was formed to foster the hobbiest community and other companies to share and collaborate, but Hasbro went back to the older ways with 4th edition and put it under a re
  • by 110010001000 ( 697113 ) on Thursday January 21, 2016 @04:24PM (#51346133) Homepage Journal
    Good artists copy. Great artists steal. And they get all the chicks, too.
  • by Mybrid ( 410232 ) on Thursday January 21, 2016 @04:27PM (#51346147)

    If I have seen farther than others it is because I stood on the shoulders of Fire Giants.

    Borrow from one it is plagiarism. Borrow from a bunch of gamers it is a lot of unattributed fun, because who cares!

  • by tekrat ( 242117 ) on Thursday January 21, 2016 @05:05PM (#51346427) Homepage Journal

    When you steal from a lot of sources that's labeled "creativity".

    George Lucas couldn't get the rights to Flash Gordon, so he steals from Akira Kurosawa, some WWII movies, and a few few other bits and pieces and we get Star Wars.

    Hanna Barbera wanted to do a "Jack Armstrong" series, but they couldn't get the rights. So, they fiddled with the formula a bit, changed a few names, and we got Jonny Quest, the killer animated series that influenced a generation and then some.

    Frankly, if old Gary stole some ideas from here and there, that's very much BAU for how stuff goes from underground to commercial success.

  • Gygax, announcing from his DMs Throne Room on the plane of Discordant Opposition says "D&D 5th Edition is still my second favorite version".
  • The Copyright Office> [copyright.gov] makes it clear that game has little protection.

    Copyright does not protect the idea for a game, its name or title, or the method or methods for playing it. Nor does copyright protect any idea, system, method, device, or trademark material involved in developing, merchandising, or playing a game. Once a game has been made public, nothing in the copyright law prevents others from developing another game based on similar principles. Copyright protects only the particular manner of an author’s expression in literary, artistic, or musical form.

    Material prepared in connection with a game may be subject to copyright if it contains a sufficient amount of literary or pictorial expression. For example, the text matter describing the rules of the game or the pictorial matter appearing on the gameboard or container may be registrable.

    If your game includes any written element, such as instructions or directions, the Copyright Office recommends that you apply to register it as a literary work. Doing so will allow you to register all copyrightable parts of the game, including any pictorial elements. When the copyrightable elements of the game consist predominantly of pictorial matter, you should apply to register it as a work of the visual arts.

    So, even using the exact same rules (described slightly differently but with the same result, same as there are plenty of different ways to describe, say, the game of chess), and the same system of play, and even the same NAME, are not protected. Make your own Risk clone with different artwork and you can tell Hasbro to stuff it.

  • "this latest revelation shows how the open and collaborative environment of early gaming was quickly exploited for commercial purposes." Makerbot
  • A chimp in San Francisco Zoo was witnessed imitating another in its method of using a stick to extract ants from their nest prior to licking it.

    The chimp had not first filed appropriate paperwork, making it liable for a claim for damages.

  • I mean, now we know Gygax stole D&D, Jobs stole the mouse and the desktop OS from PARC, Gates stole (bought) DOS from another guy.. holy shit. Can you imagine if the actual creators of these things had managed to cash in on their ideas instead of the icons we now venerate?

He's dead, Jim.

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