Thursday, March 13, 2014

Ultima VI: Playing in the Sandbox

Lord British really does spend an hour in his study each evening, reading a book to Sherry the mouse.

As we've seen, Ultima VI is one of the first "sandbox" games in which you can do all kinds of things that have no bearing on the main plot. Before we wrap up, I thought we might take a look at a few more of them, as well as some other fun quirks to the game.

Crime Wave

In an earlier post, I remarked that the band of "evil" gypsies seemed to be selling themselves but the game didn't actually offer an option to buy their wares. Apparently concerned that I'd be deprived the experience otherwise, a reader took the time to e-mail me and explain that you have to explicitly ask them for SEX.

An Avatar of either sex can solicit a gypsy of either sex, although they'll make a remark that same-sex intimacy isn't really their normal thing, but they'll do it for the money.

I love it that he's cheaper than his sister.

Apparently, some players like to take things further by having Sherry the mouse lead the party during the exchange--something that's only possible if the Avatar is asleep or paralyzed. Anyway, if you go forward with the solicitation (with anyone as the "john"), Dupre gets all moralistic all of a sudden, but you can ignore him.

So much for vice. Vandalism is also a possibility. Most objects in the game--doors, chairs, plants--are destructible. Those that won't collapse from a sword are susceptible to powder kegs.

Gideon expresses his frustration at sharing the same name with Skara Brae's innkeeper.

Theft and burglary are available, and there's a real incentive to commit both, since spells are so expensive and certain magic items are rare. You can find all kinds of gold, magic armor, wands, rings, and other valuables on the persons and in the houses of NPCs. This arguably strengthens the virtue system. It was easy to be virtuous in Ultima IV when you knew that it was necessary to win the game. It's a little harder when you know you won't be punished much either way, and there's a magic suit of armor right there.

In other postings, we've seen the "Pickpocket" spell in action as a legitimate plot device, but of course you can use it to steal valuables off of anyone in the game. Lord British, for instance, has this cool glowing serpent amulet. I don't know what it does, but it's mine now.

Ever pickpocket the heart from a Forsworn Briarheart in Skyrim? Does that sound pretty disgusting? Well, how about pickpocketing meat from animals? How sick is that?

Unlike the Briarhearts, the sheep somehow survives without its mutton.

Let's move on to the more serious crimes. You can, of course, murder any NPC in the game. At least one of them--Finn--is so annoying that you practically have to. (He stops you with his inane dialogue every time you come out of the castle otherwise.) It's also a player of rare willpower who can make it through the game without offing Chuckles.

Guess he wasn't Lord British after all.

Regicide is possible, but a little more difficult. Supposedly, you can kill Lord British by piling enough powder kegs around him, but if this wasn't enough to kill him, I don't know what I'm doing wrong.

At least Chuckles is in range.

The easier way to kill him is to strike him with a glass sword while he's sleeping.

When he dies, he doesn't leave a normal body--just his usual icon, but mute and inert. You can't pick him up, but you can shove his body in a chest and carry it around. I brought him to the gargoyle king to see if he'd reward me, but he didn't seem to care.

If you do anything short of killing Lord British, he'll one-hit kill you (only to immediately resurrect you--nice guy). But he has to reach you first. Like all characters in the game, he has trouble navigating around obstacles, so you can box him into his throne and shoot him with arrows or spells to your heart's content.

It's notable that exactly nobody comes when Lord British yells for help.

I thought he was a bit lonely on the other side of those boxes, so I cast "Clone" on him and then cast "Charm" on the clone. The two Lord Britishes went at each other but apparently weren't capable of really damaging each other. Incidentally, you don't want to let the clone out of his cage. Lord British (and his clone) is capable of moving at like triple-speed, and unlike the original, the clone doesn't become peaceful after he kills you and you get resurrected. Turn him hostile and you might end up in an endless cycle where you can't leave the throne room--or, if you do manage to escape via the Orb, you can never visit again.

If you want to torture him a bit, you can replace one of the chests with a cannon. No matter how many times you pound him with it, he won't die. It must actually kind of suck for him. I want to know what's really happening here. Is he like Wolverine, with his flesh regenerating quickly between attacks? Or is he like Superman, with the cannonballs bouncing off his body and careening around the room?

Since the gargoyles are already pretty de-populated, you could just go and genocide the entire race by killing them all. It's not very hard. But you don't get any dialogue options to tell Lord British, "Yep, I went to the gargoyle world and killed everyone. They won't be bothering you again." It's really too bad that the game didn't offer this "evil" ending.

The ultimate crime is casting the "Armageddon" spell, casually given to anyone who talks to the wisps. It destroys all life on both sides of the planet. It doesn't even leave any bodies behind, just all the equipment that everyone was carrying. This goes for your own party members, too.

Let's see if that got rid of the gargoyles, guys! . . . Guys?

Lord British is the only exception. He doesn't die. But you can't talk to him: he just sits there on his throne, apparently mute with horror. If you attack him, he's happy to kill you, though.

Technically, your majesty, I did deal with the gargoyle threat.

Incidentally, if you kill Lord British, he still shows up at the end of the game. So does Draxinusom if you kill him. However, if you cast the "Armageddon" spell, nothing happens when you try to use the vortex cube in front of the Codex. You're stuck in Britannia, alone, forever. Lord British won't even let you die: he still resurrects you in front of his throne if you kill yourself. He just won't talk to you.

Karma Chameleon

For most of the game, I thought that karma had no effects, but aside from my raid on the Royal Mint, I didn't do anything "bad," so I didn't notice. It turns out there are a few subtle effects to low karma:

  • Healers won't offer to heal you for free. If you have good karma but no gold, healers say something like, "I recognize your cause is just" and heal you anyway. With low karma, it's pay up or get out.
  • Sylvia Moorehead, one of the NPCs who tells you where to get a piece of the map, won't talk to you the first time.
  • Naxatilor, the gargoyle scholar, has different dialogue options. If you first greet him with high karma, he says, "To observe by your aura that you are truly a being of honor. To be surprised, then, that you are fated to destroy a world." If you greet him with low karma, he say the opposite. A few of his other options also change.

What do you mean by "blackness?" Huh?

  • Mondain, Minax, and Exodus all have different farewells. If high, they say, "I admire thy deeds and thy [whatever their deal is]." If low, it's "Thy deeds show a lack of [the virtue]."
  • Altars give you different messages when you meditate at them.

Hey, you don't know that! It's a generic karma meter! Maybe my problem is with "humility!"

  • Most important, with low karma the Altar of Singularity won't give you the quest to go to the Codex. That's a dealbreaker.

I don't have a strong sense of how to regain karma in Ultima VI. I know that you get some the first time you meditate at a shrine, but it doesn't seem to work after the first time. I purposefully got mine low and nothing I did--meditating, giving money to beggars--would pump it up again.

I would say the deeds I did to get this message put me in particular need of enlightenment.

Persistent NPCs

This section doesn't quite go with the theme, but towards the end of the game, I had some fun comparing the NPCs I'd found in Ultima VI to my notes for the earlier games. This is the list of recurring NPCs I came up with, with some information supplemented from other sources:

  • Lord British: Duh.
  • Dupre: A companion since Ultima IV, first appeared in Ultima II on Jupiter, asking the player if he wanted to buy a duck. When I recalled this, I asked Dupre about DUCK in Ultima VI and he said, "Please, let's not talk about ducks . . ." His character is supposed to be from Earth, but this is never really explored. Based on Richard Garriott's friend Greg Dykes.

Note that Dupre doesn't have any problem when he's the one getting some lovin'. (This is in response to my asking him about DAMSELS.) Maybe he just has a problem with me paying for it.

  • Iolo: Around since Ultima, where he was a jester in some of the towns. I think he appears in all of the games. I killed him in Ultima II. Also supposed to be from Earth, though again this is never elaborated on. Based on Richard Garriott's friend, David R. Watson.
  • Gwenno: The only other character around since the first Ultima, where she was the jester that you kill for her key. We don't find out that she's Iolo's wife until V, but the couple appears together in II and III, so you could infer. Based on David Watson's wife, Kathleen Jones.
  • Shamino: Appears in Ultima as the king of one of the castles on the Lands of Danger and Despair. His character really makes no sense. In Ultima V, we learn that it was Shamino, a woodsman, who first encountered Lord British when the king stumbled into Sosaria via moongate as a child. How he rose from woodcutter to king and then fell to the position of a ranger in Skara Brae by Ultima IV, ought to be an interesting story, but we never hear it, nor any explanation as to why he's still alive in VII given that he's a native Britannian. Named after Richard Garriott's Society for Creative Anachronisms name.
  • Katrina: First met in Ultima IV as a humble shepherd and the only human survivor on Magincia. I was kind of sad when I met her in Ultima V and she said, "I yearn for battle!" But she seems to have returned to her more humble, peaceful personality in VI (though she'll still join the party). Apparently based on a friend of Richard Garriott named Trina.
  • Jaana and Julia: Also joinable since Ultima IV, also both based on Garriott's friends of those names.
  • Mondain, Minax, and Exodus, if only in spirit form.
  • Mariah: The mage from Moonglow who would join the party in IV and V, now a scholar at the Lycaeum. One of two original IV NPCs who won't join the party in this game. The other is Geoffrey. Apparently based on Richard Garriott's secretary, Michelle Caddel.
  • Geoffrey: The fighter NPC from IV. Since I played that game as a fighter, I never got him in my party, for which I'm glad, because he turns out to be a bit of a tight-ass. Based on Origin employee Jeff Hillhouse.
  • Chuckles: Around since II. Insufferable little bastard in every game in which he appears. I've never really understood what his motivations are. There's also some weird stuff going on with him in V: he's got a body hidden behind his fireplace, and a guy named Drudgeworth in the castle dungeons claims that it's Chuckles's fault that he's locked up and he never killed "her." Based on Origin co-founder Chuck Bueche, who must be a pretty easy-going guy if this is how he allows himself to be portrayed.
  • Sutek: What happened to this guy? He was a scholar in V who was invaluable to understanding the Shadowlords; but by this game, he's gone insane and is massacring people and conducting unholy experiments on animals. (Which makes me realize: why did I just leave him alive?)
  • Sin'Vraal: A daemon in V who was supposedly "reformed" by Lord British, he's retconned as a gargoyle here, though one wonders how, in that case, he first encountered Lord British.
  • Simon and Tessa: These two get around, and they're always found together. They were in Paws in IV (where they gave info about the mystics), Bordermarch in V (where they gave info about the crown jewels), and  Serpent's Hold in VI (where they give info about nothing).
  • Sentri: This one was a bit of a revelation. I thought he first appeared in V, where he was (like in VI) a joinable companion. It turns out he goes all the way back to II, where he's the guy who sells you the sword Enilno. He's also in III in a bar in Montor West, and in IV, he's the ruler of Serpent's Hold.
  • John/Johne: Maybe, assuming these are supposed to be the same people. He accidentally created the Shadowlords in V but redeemed himself by joining the party. In VI, he's probably the most important NPC in the game.
  • Gorn: A prisoner in Blackthorn's palace in V and found in its dungeons in VI, making you wonder if, canonically, he ever left. He originally appeared in two other Origin games, The Quest and Ring Quest.
  • Kenneth: A musician. In V, he was located in a lighthouse and taught the Avatar how to play "Stones," which was a rather important clue. In this game, he's teaching at the conservatory in Britain, along with his wife, Nan. Based on Origin employee (and composer) Kenneth W. Arnold.
  • Gwenneth: Iolo's apprentice in V, now running his old shop in VI. Apparently, I could have bought something called a "triple crossbow" from her, but I never got around to it. It's nice that Gwenno is cool with Iolo mentoring an attractive young female who has pretty much the same name as his wife.
  • Dr. Cat: The tavernkeeper in Paws. Based, of course, on head writer David Shapiro, who was using "Dr. Cat" as a moniker as far back as 1982, when he made Caverns of Freitag. He's not my favorite NPC in the game, but I'm glad that Shapiro didn't do any self-gratifying nonsense with him.
  • Nomaan: The idiot who lost the Rune of Valor in Jhelom appeared as a blacksmith in V. He sells weapons and armor in both games.

Anyone I missed?

The Shrine Hears What It Wants to Hear

In response to Rotgrub's speculation the other day:

Shut Up! Bloody Vikings. 
The game's cheat menu--apparently left in the production program by mistake--is called up by talking to Iolo and saying SPAM three times in a row, followed by HUMBUG.

"Secret" until the Internet came along, that is.

The menu lets you do anything: edit your character levels and attributes, add gold, and create items. Couple this with another cheat that lets you teleport anywhere in the game world, and you could win the game in five minutes. Have Iolo spam the two lenses, the vortex cube, and all the moonstones, then ALT-2-1-4 to the Codex (or set your quest flag to 1 and use the Orb to get to the Codex).

Speaking of the Codex, it's one of the objects that can be created through Iolo's cheat menu, which makes no sense given that you can't pick it up in-game. If you read it, oddly, it says "The perpetual motion machine." Since the Codex supposedly has the answer to every question you're currently asking, what does it suppose I'm asking? "Which of the exhibits in the Royal Museum is the stupidest?"

"Hey, Draxinusom! Here's your Codex!"
"Now watch it BURN!"

The items you can get this way even include creatures. All the various options let you set up whatever little scenes you want.

Behold my daemon army, come to depose you!

Hit the road, British! It's my castle, now!

The Geography Gets Weirder

Let's review the facts. Britannia is flat and square. The gargoyle world is presented as the other side of Britannia. The underworld was the hollow space in between. The idea, I guess, is that when the Avatar visits the Codex in Ultima IV, he's actually tunneling down into the gargoyles' Shrine of Singularity.

The original situation.

Something about the events of Ultima V caused the underworld to start to collapse. On the Britannian side, we only lost Bordermarch. On the gargoyle side, most of their land collapsed into the void, leaving only one small island and city.

The situation everyone blames me for, even though I did nothing wrong.

The problem with this is threefold:

1. The sun and moons appear in the same position at the same time whether you're on the Britannian side or the gargoyle side. You'd think day in Britannia would be night in gargoyle land, but that isn't the case.

2. When you sail to the edge of the remaining gargoyle island and look down, you ought to be able to see the underside of Britannia. But instead, you just see void.

I ought to be seeing a world of inverse contours through that hole.
3. If you hop in your balloon and drift over the void, guess what happens? After a dozen squares of void, you wrap around to the other side of Britannia again! The world isn't flat after all! It's just surrounded by a really weird moat.

In short, the creators really need to get their story straight. I'm sure all these problems will be fixed in time for Ultima VII.

All right, I guess it's time to close out this game. Let's move on to the GIMLET.


  1. What a fun post! :)

    I've always thought Shamino was based on Richard Garriott himself, or at least his portrait in Ultima VI is...

  2. Yep, Shamino and Lord British are both based on Richard Garriott.

    1. Yes. If I recall correctly, there is an in-joke early in the game, or when you talk to Shamino, where he drops a comment like "Appearances can be deceiving..." or "Everybody has a twin..." "I've been mistaken for Lord British" and it's a riff off of the fact that his portrait IS Lord British a.k.a. Richard Garriott...

    2. IIRC correctly, I read some place that Garriot first came up with that name while riding his bike. He needed something to call his sca character, and after pondering it over for a while during his commute he looked down and saw "Shamino" (the brand name of his bike)
      I always felt that was a bit sad, considering he is/was supposedly a creative genius.

    3. Really? I never heard of that brand before. Shimano, though...

    4. Yes, you're correct, he altered it slightly. but that was the source of his inspiration

  3. Oops, that last one was supposed to be a reply to rotgrub.

    Anyway, I also wanted to say that I think casting Armageddon while in Lord British's presence will actually get a reaction out of him. It could be a different Ultima game I'm thinking of, though.

    1. I like to imagine that Lord British isn't mute with horror, just refusing to talk to the Avatar out of spite. After all, you did just destroy his dream world where he can finally be King and sleep with all the chambermaids.

      "Now's time to come back to the real world Richard. Come with me now, there's nothing left for you here."

    2. Nope, just tried it and he has nothing to say even if you cast it right in front of him. I think you're thinking of U7.

  4. Great posts! Really interesting to see some of the options in this game. I wonder what it says about us as RPG players that, whenever given freedom and the desire to mess around outside of the main story we always resort to genocide. It is certainly fun, however.

    1. That, and there isn't much else to do with unlimited power in a CRPG. Though with enough time and use of the cheat menu, I guess you could build your own castle or something. I think walls are among the objects you can get from Iolo.

    2. I think Darklands' quest-giving and town-exploring addressed this, in that you aren't allowed to kill people you aren't supposed to...without really sacrificing much flexibility -- the game is still quite open-ended (perhaps even to a fault). I don't want to give too many details (Chet hasn't played Darklands before), but it will be really interesting to see his reaction once we get there...and although it's really early, comparing and contrasting Darklands' openness with Ultima's would be interesting.

  5. Is it known for certain that the cheaters menu was left in there by mistake? It seems kind of cutesy that it uses silly dialogue keywords to access and says "Secret Cheaters Menu!" As opposed to "Developers Shortcut Menu!" or "Note - disable before game release". I figure the alt-214 'teleport' has more the feel of a developer's shortcut, but Iolo's cheat menu is more like an easter egg.

    1. You're probably right. I had it in my head that I'd read in a magazine that the inclusion was accidental.

    2. The spam menu was also pretty well known, even before the internet. Everyone on Prodigy knew all about it, and at least one printing of the first edition Official Book of Ultima outright contained instructions for accessing it. I did have another printing (still of the first edition, definitely not to be confused with the second edition) that slightly altered that page to just obliquely hint at the existence of the spam menu. But I believe I first learned about it in one of the contemporary magazines of the day.

  6. A plausible explanation is that the characters themselves don't know what the deal is with Brittanian geography, like how, for example, nobody knew what caused diseases until germ theory became widely accepted. Before then, people talked about evil spirits and imbalances in the humors and such. The information you're getting from the characters and manual may just be their best guess. Maybe the path down into the depths of Brittania travels through non-euclidean space into some other dimension or somesuch.

    1. Even if we ignore what the NPCs say, the physical evidence simply doesn't work no matter what. Going DOWN from either Britannia or the gargoyle world causes us to reach another world with a sky, so it's impossible that they're on the same plane. They share the SAME sky, so it's impossible that they're on opposite sides of a flat world (as does the wrap-around that the balloon trip demonstrates). The only thing that works is the idea that somehow you pass through a dimensional portal within the dungeons (this would also explain why you never encounter a weird gravity shift), but then why does "Armageddon" destroy life on both sides?

      Even the most concerted Ultima apologist can't make the geography work.

      That was a challenge, incidentally.

    2. Maybe it's a Klein bottle.

    3. There is a Japanese turn-based strategy/RPG called Super Robot Wars Masoukishin: The Lord of Elemental. It takes place in a world called La Gias.
      It is theorized by some characters that La Gias is situated on the inner side of Earth's crust. Turns out that La Gias is a world in parallel dimension, but located in the exact same coordinates as Earth. In order to get to La Gias or return to Earth from it, one should pass a tunnel that connects Earth and La Gias (few can open this tunnel, though).
      Maybe Britannia and Gargoyles's world are the same with dungeon acting like tunnel that connects two parallel dimensions?
      Or maybe I shouldn't try to make sense of Britannia's geography.

    4. Maybe it's like the old TSR Hollow world setting - We don't know that they're the same sun \ moons.

      or maybe it all goes on inside a Truman show style dome (in order to get to the gargoyle world / wrap around the studio staff gas you and move you to another location)....

  7. The world is normal and round in U7, you can sail all the way around. In fact, I think you can do so in any direction - no polar ice caps.

    1. I think that means the world is doughnut shaped, not round. So it just goes from one weird shape to another!

    2. The real question is: where the hell is Serpent Isle in that case?

    3. It hinges on whether we're supposed to regard relative distances as literal or abstractions. Since the same amount of time passes no matter what direction you wander, I have to regard distances as literal.

      People have suggested before that a square map that wraps back on itself must mean a doughnut shape. I don't agree that it works any better. The distances don't work no matter what three-dimensional shape you try to make it--it is inescapable that the surface of Britannia is flat (if we regard the flat game surface as a project, time becomes an issue again); yet it still wraps around on itself. I think teleporters at the edges are the only potential explanation.

    4. I don't get why a donut doesn't work. When you go east-west, you're moving ALONG the "rim" of the donut, when you go north/south, you're circling AROUND the rim (and through the hole)

    5. Two reasons:

      1. The flat map of Britannia is the same distance north/south as east-west. This would mean that the doughnut's circumfrence (the east-west portion) would have to be equal to its "girth" (for lack of a better term) I don't see any way that you could make this work mathematically. I'd have to mess around with geometric proofs to PROVE that you couldn't, but I'm pretty sure you couldn't.

      2. In-game, Britannia is depicted as a flat surface. If this flat surface is meant to be a PROJECTION (I somehow said "project" above) of a curved world (whether that curve is a sphere, doughnut, or anything else), then distances, sizes, or proportions have to "give" (in the same way that Greenland looks bigger than Africa on a Mercator map). But if anything had "given," there would be variances in the amount of time that it takes to move from square to square. Since these times are consistent throughout the game, it's proof that Britannia is, in fact, flat--it's not a projection.

    6. Oh, not to mention that if it's a doughnut, at some point you'd be able to look up and see the other side of Britannia above you. I can't say for SURE that's not the case since the games not in 3D, but it's awfully odd that the other characters don't comment on such a thing.

    7. If U9 is taken into consideration, no, Britannia is NOT doughnut shaped.

  8. I think you missed a recurring NPC: Smith the talking horse. He appears in several Ultima games, each time giving the player information that would have been critically useful in the *previous* one.

    It's a miracle the Avatar didn't ship him off to a glue factory. No jury in the world would convict.

    1. Indeed. I did overlook him. I guess I was only thinking of human NPCs.

  9. Max the blacksmith in Britain is in both U5 and U6. If you look at the in game clocks in U5 and U6, U5 takes place in the year 139 and U6 in 161 so I thought there were a lot more non-Earth NPCs that were around for both games.

    I never knew that karma actually affected you in this game.

    The name Shamino comes from when Garriott mis-pronounced (or just changed the spelling of) the bicycle company Shimano.

    Interesting that Mariah's real life name-sake's last name is Caddel because there's a metal in U7 called caddellite.

    1. Really? 22 years have passed between the games? In the intro, it says that it was only "five seasons" on Earth. I didn't realize the time ratio was THAT high. I guess that explains how the Avatar keeps a job back home. If he goes adventuring for two months in Britannia, only about three days pass back home. Maybe he takes the time to call in sick before diving through the moongate.

    2. The manual did indicate that Earth time is, at least, 5 times slower than Britannia's. Earthlings in Britannia still ages in Earth years. Since most of your companions were from Earth as well, they are usually still alive every time you visit Britannia.

    3. Still doesn't make sense with Shamino, Mariah, Julia, Jaana, etc. 5 seasons = 1.25 years, so if 22 years passed in Britannia, the ratio is more like Britannia is 17-18 times slower than Earth.

    4. Probably. The difference just gets larger with each series that, by the time we reach 6, Origins just stopped saying how much slower Earthlings age and just outright tell you that it's waaaaayyy slower than these Britannian mayflies.

  10. Sorry for this again, but I don't think you saw this at the bottom of a thread last post.
    When's Ultima 7 coming around on your list? Will it be even longer wait than U5-U6?
    Also, are you gonna use the Forge of Virtue expansion pack? It doesn't add much besides a sidequest I believe, but its' effects are canon for U7P2.

    1. Chet answered when someone else asked a few posts ago. See

    2. Yeah, more than 100 games--not even including the 1980s list--unless I change my plan.

      Of course I'll play with the expansion pack.

  11. IIRC, the triple crossbow you never got around to getting is one of the best weapons in Ultimas VI and VII. Note that it isn't simply a top-tier ranged weapon, it's among the most powerful of ALL weapons. Probably for the best you didn't bother with it, since you started the game so overpowered.

  12. I never could get into the engine of U6, but I've watched an LP and read 3 of them, and it really sound like an interesting game. Too bad the world is so small (in VII too), I loved U4/U5 especially for the vast open world.

    1. I also prefer the large dual-scale world of U4 and U5 to the tiny single-scale world of U6 and U7.

    2. The funny thing is, there were actually fewer squares in U4 and U5, even in the overland map. It's only because there's no separate scale for cities and you can view all party members that the U6 map seems smaller.

    3. In U6, I dislike that the cities are larger than the mountain ranges (for example). In U5 and U4, a single mountain seemed larger than a city. This scale problem has an uncanny valley effect--for me anyway.

  13. "Seggallion" is another recurring character, although he originally comes from Origin's Knights of Legend. He also appears in Ultima V, Martian Dreams, and Savage Empire

    1. Right. I talked about him in an earlier post. I'm not sure why I forgot him from this list.

  14. Man, it took me until now before I got this: Enilno is Online backwards!


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