Monday, September 1, 2014

Captive: Surviving on the Inside

Reaching the station where Trill is being held. It looks ominously like the Death Star.

Despite what I said at the end of the last post, I decided to try to marathon my way to the end of Captive. It partly worked. I finished the regular bases and made it to the space station where Trill is being held, but I've gotten stuck there and probably won't be able to finish.

The game got a little easier for me after the last post, for a couple of reasons. First, I spent money on better weapons and droid parts, although I kept my lead characters going primarily with melee weapons until late in this session (ammo is expensive). Second, the muscle memory in my fingers got used to the turn-side-step combo on the keypad, so I could flank all but the fastest monsters as long as I could find an area of at least 2x2. Third, I started to master some of the game's other mechanics, which I'll cover below.

I still maintain that Captive is absurdly deadly, even by the standards of Dungeon Master clones. Even with all four of my droids blazing their shields, and with all of them upgraded to the best Bronzite or Ironide parts, I still was unable to stand up to more than two shots from some of the late-game monsters. Sometimes not even one. Fortunately, I slowly grew to master--or at least understand--the arsenal of tricks that the game allows. Some of them are adopted from Dungeon Master, but several are unique to the game. They include:

1. Hit and run. This tactic takes advantage of the fact that enemies can't strafe. If they encounter a 90-degree angle, they have to step forward and then turn before they can fire or continue pursuit. Thus, a long, bendy hallway is your friend. Wait for the enemy to enter an angle, fire off a few shots, then flee to the next bend when he turns to face you. When enemies can't pass certain obstacles, like water, this becomes even easier. Dangers: You forget the map and end up trapping yourself in a dead-end, or there simply isn't any suitable hallway to do this.

This guy has just turned to face me on a bend. I need to strafe to the left, then turn right, and shoot him a few times when he enters the square I'm currently in. Then I'll run to the next bend in the corridor and do it again.
2. The side-step-turn. This uses the same mechanic as "hit and run" but without the benefit of corridors on either side. You lead the enemy to an area of at least 2x2 squares. Since enemies follow predictable patterns as they chase you around the squares, you can use this to your advantage. Just as the enemy turns to face you, you side-step (strafe) to a square that puts you diagonal to him, then turn to face the square that he'll enter as he tries to get next to you. When he does, fire off a few shots (or melee attacks) before he can turn and face you, then quickly do another side-step before he can shoot. Repeat, constantly dancing around in a 2x2 square pattern, until he dies. Dangers: Finger fatigue ensures that you will occasionally screw this up. It works poorly on fast enemies, and you don't have time to save in the middle of it, so one mis-typed key causes you to lose your progress beating down a foe.

You can do a kind-of hybrid of the first two strategies if you can find a room with a pillar in the middle.

3. Mines. Shops sell mines, and occasionally enemies leave one behind when they die. Enemies will avoid them if there are alternative paths, but if you can find a corridor that an enemy must travel to defeat you, you can lay any number of them. I found that 3-4 mines were very effective against even the tough enemies on the final base, but they're also very expensive and heavy. Flying enemies are immune to them. Dangers: You set off your own mines, so you have to remember where they are and use the anti-gravity device to walk over them.

4. Cameras. Cameras sell for less money than mines but are slightly less effective. When set up, they look like Daleks from Dr. Who. When you switch them on, you can see the facing corridor on one of your monitors, and a little yellow square denotes the presence of an enemy in the corridors. When the enemy steps on the square with the camera you can press a button to detonate it. Dangers: Fast moving enemies often zoom by the camera before you can react.

Setting up a camera. Hitting the right "X" on the monitor screen will cause it to explode.
I suppose cameras have tactical purposes other than blowing up--perhaps to warn you of the approach of any enemy on your backpath--but I don't see the value here. The bases are all organized into small, discrete sections separated by doors, ladders, elevators, and walls. It's comparatively easy to determine if you've cleared a section, and fairly easy to tell when a switch or panel opens access to another hallway. You'd have to be a fairly careless player to get surprised by enemies, in which case you're probably not using cameras anyway.

5. Shooting through slits. Walls occasionally offer slits through which you can view enemies on the other side. You can fire electric bolts and super balls through these slits, or regular guns if you're inverted on the ceiling. Since some enemies can also fire at you, and they often have a wide range of motion on the other side, limiting how often you can shoot at them, I haven't found these to be very helpful.

Shooting electricity through a slit at an enemy on the other side.

6. The door crush. Position yourself in front of a closing door or wall and let it pound your enemy while you supplement its damage with melee attacks and shots. This is a viable strategy in the early game, but not so much in the late game when standing in front of some enemies for even a few seconds is enough to wipe out your party.

7. Friendly fire. When enemies sense you, they fire at you, even if they're on the other sides of doors or walls--and even if other enemies are in between. You can sometimes trick enemies into wiping each other out this way. A few enemies have shots that automatically bounce off walls and doors if they don't encounter anything in between, and if you can get them firing at you from the other side of a wall or door, they'll kill themselves.

Bases 9 and 10 featured enemies of living fire. Since they have to stay rooted in the fire on the floor, however, it was easy to use hit and run tactics on them.
8. Super bouncy ball. The "super balls" you find throughout the game will bounce back and forth between walls until they hit something or exhaust themselves in 6 or 7 bounces. I keep a big supply. Send them careening in a big room and there's a good chance that they'll intercept something eventually. You can also use them to test for the presence of enemies on the other side of a room or corridor that's so long you can't see the end. If the ball comes bouncing back, it's clear. Dangers: The balls can hit you, and cause significant damage, so you'll want to find a place to duck out of the way if you start hurling them.

9. The crowded ladder. It's tough to get into a situation where this works, but when it does, it's fun. Your party cannot occupy the same square as an enemy. If an enemy is standing at the top of a ladder when you ascend, you'll automatically nudge him into an adjacent square. But if that adjacent square is occupied by another enemy, he cannot move and automatically dies. If you can get a bunch of enemies milling about the top of a ladder with only a single adjacent square, you can kill a lot of them this way and just have to deal with the one remaining. Unfortunately, it's more common to find ladders with at least two adjacent squares, meaning at least three enemies have to be in the right position for this to work.

10. Ladder-scumming. The last refuge. Lead an enemy to the ladder. Head down. Pop up, squeeze off a few shots, pop back down. Save and repeat. If the enemy gets lucky and shoots you the instant you reach the top of the ladder, reload. Dangers: Some enemies react so fast that you basically have to hit "fire" before your brain can register whether the enemy is actually in front of you when you reach the top of the ladder. This wastes a lot of ammo when the enemy isn't there. Some enemies react and fire so fast that you have to reload a lot even when ladder-scumming.

Ladder-scumming to defeat this pack of robots in the space station.

As I grew more adept at these methods, I found the last three bases a little easier, although the last base featured this horrid thing:

Notice how well all those shields are performing. They might as well not even be on.
It moves so fast I can barely react to it, and since it flies, it's immune to mines. I had to resort to ladder-scumming to defeat every one of them. Overall, as I fear I've said ad nauseum, while I can appreciate this type of combat, I don't really like it. Too much relies on fast fingers, and I'm just lousy at that.

Replacing my droid parts. When I get done, do I really have the same droid?
On equipment, I eventually upgraded every droid to "Bronzite" parts, and on the last base my lead droid got "Ironide" parts. There were even better parts available, but I didn't invest enough points in "Robotics" to equip them. I didn't notice a huge difference in the amount of damage they repelled, but I did notice that the higher-level parts made my devices consume far less electricity. Also, repairing these higher-level parts is a lot more expensive.

The secret to surviving Captive--both financially and physically--seems to be to avoid getting hit at all.

The skill problem haunted me with weapons, too. Throughout the game, I made the "mistake" (if you can call something you have no way to foresee a mistake) of trying to master the early skills before investing a lot of points in the later skills. This is partly because you find melee weapons and simple handguns all over the place, whereas you have to pay for more advanced weapons and their ammo. It's also because the more advanced weapons require a lot more skill. For instance, for my droid with 49 wisdom, advancing from Level 2 to 3 in "Cannons" costs 4,389 experience points, whereas advancing from Level 16 to 17 in "Rifles" requires only 570.

This has some weird consequences. Commenter MOZA, for instance, assures me that the worst laser is better than the best handgun. But since the best handgun requires 24 skill points in "Handguns" and the worst laser requires only 1 skill point in "Lasers," this suggests that you're wasting your time ever getting all the way up to 24. Best go only to 9, at which point the next skill becomes available, and I guess always invest your points in the best available skills? I want to re-iterate that the Captive manual is absolutely no help with this question, and in the typical RPG, a high-skill level generally trumps the type of weapon.

One droid's current skills. I probably should have concentrated more on the later skills and made sure I got the last one--"Sprayguns"--before the final base. Despite investing some in "Cannons," I haven't actually bought any cannons.
Anyway, partly because I didn't want to waste the substantial investment I'd made in lower skills, and partly because ammo for higher-level weapons costs so much, I remained well behind the curve in weapons for the entire game. This created a much higher level of difficulty for me, but I managed to get by anyway--until the space station, where my paltry selection of laser guns and handguns were no match for the absurdly difficult monsters there. 

The final three bases grew progressively bigger, until they were so large that walking around them took about 30 minutes even when they were completely cleared. I still didn't have to map, however. The nature of the procedural map generation means that no matter how large, the bases will be almost completely linear. Never does a late section suddenly re-connect with an early section. What does happen, however, is that the passcode needed to get through a door in an early section might not be found until very late in the base. This dynamic ensures that you end up looping through each base multiple times as you acquire new passcodes. I got rather sick of this towards the end.

Opening a new section of the base with a passcode I found way, way, way far away.

In the last couple bases, these types of passcodes became more common, but it's the same dynamic: find the clipboard, then find the panel that it opens.
A few other notes:

  • This keeps happening. I don't know why.

  • The weapons you find in little alcoves on the wall, although they look like brass knuckles, swords, handguns, rifles, and so on, are all called "Zlots." It took me a while to understand how these differ from the ones you buy in stores. They're meant only for temporary use. They have a limited number of blows or charges, they disappear when they run out, and they can't be repaired. Throughout the game, I was using them as primary weapons when they're really meant as backups for when you run out of ammo.
  • The procedural nature of dungeon creation means that occasionally you have weird stuff like this, where I've gone through all the trouble to find and enter a passcode, only to find a two-square, empty corridor on the other side. Ladders and elevators routinely lead to empty squares.

Good thing there were lasers blocking this area.

  • The battery was the best purchase I made. It's often a long time between power outlets, but since one battery can fully recharge four droids, I rarely worry about running out of power anymore.

Recharging at a wall socket.

After I cleared the last of the 10 bases, I had no idea what to expect from the space station. I rather hoped that I would just arrive at the station and the endgame sequence would commence. I should be so lucky. Instead, the space station is a base just like the others, only with much harder monsters. Even Bases 8 and 9 featured some of the easy monsters from the first couple of bases, and the really tough enemies (like the one above) were punctuations in a long series of easy or moderately-challenging encounters. But I found no easy encounters on the space station. The moment I entered, I was greeted by this behemoth . . .

Well, hell.

. . . and it just got worse from there. The only three creature types I've found on the space station are two types of these giant cyborgs and packs of robots that look like Robocop. All of them are capable of wiping me out in a hot second, and ladder-scumming and mines are the only techniques that have had any effect.

Unfortunately, I'll soon run out of even these options, as I'm out of ammo (despite loading up all my available inventory slots on the previous base) and I haven't found any shops to restock. I'm not even sure there are any shops on the space station. I'm going to have to reload a saved game from Base 10 and get everyone equipped with better weapons, and a lot more ammunition, before I try again. I don't know how soon that will be.


In list news, I've removed Secret Valley (1983) for the ZX Spectrum. In mechanics, the game is virtually indistinguishable from The Valley (1982), which I already reviewed. You enter a direction to move and random stuff happens. There simply isn't enough gameplay content to be considered an RPG under my rules, although I confess I don't know what other category I'd assign to it. I suspect this fate is going to befall a lot of the "RPGs" I recently added from the World of Spectrum site.

I've also taken the advice of several of you and rejected Bad Blood as an RPG. It was a tough call, as the game features world exploration and NPC dialogue that you rarely find in non-RPG games. But its lack of any character development and its all-action combat mean that it violates two of my core criteria. I briefly considered playing it anyway, as it would have been fun to contrast its post-apocalyptic theme with Fallout: New Vegas, which I've had going on my Xbox for the last few weeks. As I went through the manual and initial game areas, however, the back story and plot--centered on problems between "Mutes" and "Humes"--just struck me as irredeemably goofy. Origin may have created worlds, but sometimes they made a hash of the job.


  1. I think Bad Blood is closer to an action-based Scavengers of the Mutant World than Fallout or Wasteland.

  2. Crystals of Arborea!

    Finally, the title appeared
    on the horizon.

    I'm very, very curious of your adventures in this world.

    Paradoxically never played. But as a teenager, who has not yet had a computer, I used to read lot of magazines about games. And this title (and Ishar3 and Heroes of Might and Magic 1) stuck in my memory. And every time you come across on the images of these games wakes up some sort of magic.

    Strange how it works.

    1. I really don't think Chet will like the Arborea/Ishar tetralogy. I always liked them in screenshot form, but I found them weirldy designed and a pain to play.

    2. The Ishar series was quite original, even though it's a bit "hardcore": (pay to save on Ishar 1, death traps on Ishar 2). Another series worth experiencing on an Amiga 1200! ;)

    3. Another french RPG, like Drakkhen. Those are always a little unusual. But yes, it looks great in screenshot form. I remember though, that the reviews of the series were rather average.

    4. I couldn't agree more with people's views here. I just played through them as part of my own little retro quest, and was thoroughly disappointed. I, too, remember them vividly from magazines back in the day and was really looking forward to playing them, but I bailed on every game. Each of them just rubbed me the wrong way. I'll be very interested to see what Chet makes of them.

    5. I remember playing one of the Ishars on the Amiga. It looked beautiful, but it was hard to be clear when you moved compared to games like Dungeon Master, in the outdoors anyway. There was less sense of position.

      It felt like a game I *should* like better than I did...

  3. This keeps happening. I don't know why.

    I don't know the in-game reason for the error, or if it has any effects, but Guru Meditation errors are a long and storied part of Amiga lore, dating back to an improbable balance board peripheral presaging the Wii balance board by some 25 years.

    1. Just a joke of the author's

  4. Congratulations on your progress. Do you have to kill every enemy? Is it possible just to run away from them and go straight to Trill?
    I believe that's your second reference to the Ship of Theseus on this blog. I guess the creators WALL-E would answer in the affirmative.

    1. I wonder if this was triggered by the recent episode of Doctor Who

    2. You don't have to kill EVERY enemy, but it's dangerous to leave them in your backpath in case you end up hitting a dead end. And since they don't really stop coming once they acquire you, you'd soon end up with dozens of them hunting for you. Killing each enemy is thus functionally necessary.

    3. Hm, should I confess or not? I've never watched Doctor Who...

  5. Bad blood is based on same engine as times of lore so RPG wise I'd expect a similar game play and wikipedia agrees stating that bad blood also has 3 characters to choose at the start and so forth.

    So times of lore in both good and the bad in the future, yey.

  6. Literally nobody seems to know what the guru meditation means.

    From an FAQ about the game (

    Why do I get a screen "Link Broken"?

    Nobody knows and the programmer doesn't remember why, as he says "I think this was just a gimmick... I used to add test cards to my games,so for a change I opted for the Amiga ERROR message :) ". I guess this mystery will never be solved.

  7. Something I forgot to mention, the skill system is very similar to contemporary mechanisms, i.e. skill points unlocking new abilities/spells/weapons. In fact, the system here reminds me a bit of Mass Effect. And almost every MMORPG does it as well.

  8. "Guru meditation" message is probably a joke. Guru mediation is an Amiga analog of Windows "Blue Screen of Death".

  9. Next is Secret of the Silver Blades? How do you feel about the Gold Box games at this point? Do you get warm feelings of familiarity and nostalgia or are they starting to wear on you after playing so many?

    1. I love how everyone's waiting for him to get to the next Gold Box game and he hasn't even finished Captive yet.

      Oh, Addict: transfer your party from Curse. Secret will go a lot faster.

    2. I hit some major glitches importing from Pool to Curse which made the latter game nearly unwinnable, but created a new party for Blades. For all of the occasional tedium of Silver Blades, it is balanced pretty well to start a party fresh in the game.

      Spoiler only if you have not even read the manual:

      Your characters are teleported into Blades as naked as jay-birds, so it is not like you will get helped much by the old equipment.

    3. He can be helped a *little* if he makes sure to leave his gauntlets of ogre power and girdles of giant strength on. ;)

  10. Silver Blades, already! I was hoping to win before you started so there would not be any spoilers. Perhaps I shall skip those posts (as I tried to for the other two 1990 Gold Box games) until I win... and to think we are supposed to go to the beach today. ;)

    One small note that I do not think is a spoiler:

    One of the shops you will find will "trade for platinum". I read that and assumed that you could trade in weapons and items for money, like every other shop. In fact, what you can actually do is trade money for gems. This makes the economy last all of ten minutes longer. (But actually is a big pacing snafu.)

    Rot 13 for your spoiler-free enjoyment:

    Bar bs gur AVPR guvatf nobhg Fvyire Oynqrf vf gung trzf va gur svefg unys bs gur tnzr bayl pbzr guebhtu fpevcgrq rapbhagref, naq lbh arrq trzf gb jryy jvfurf. Gung rssrpgviryl xrrcf lbh uhagvat trzf jryy vagb gur zvarf gb trg gur erfg bs gur jvfu-pyhrf. Ohg fvapr lbh pna ohl trzf, lbh pna hfr gur vafnar ubneqf bs ybbg gung rira gur rnfvrfg rarzvrf qebc gb trg nyy bs gubfr pyhrf rneyvre. V jnf qvfnccbvagrq orpnhfr V jnf fher gung gur trz qvfgevohgvba jnf na rkpryyrag cnpvat qrpvfvba.

  11. It's okay. You're not screwed. The station is doable with the skill setup you have right now. Just need to be quick with your fingers and your feet, and dodge everything they throw at you. Fight mobile. It would be better if you had higher tier bodyparts (Chrome Basic is better at everything than Iron Super), but you can do it with what you've got.

    When reloading from previous base, do whatever you must to make sure that every droid has a good gun in both hands. That means lasers or automatics (best automatics are better than worst lasers - the tiers partially overlap on weapons), eight pieces total. If you can afford the cheapest cannons (both skillwise and moneywise), that's even better. In any case it's critical that you're not reduced to engaging the final battles of the game with early-game weapons like axes or bouncy balls. The faster you kill those giants, the fewer chances they get to murder you.

    You're at the final stretch. There's no secret tech here, no gimmick that you should know about - just do what you've done so far, but better. Good luck and perseverance.

    There are shops in the station. I don't remember where, but they definitely exist.

    - - -

    The Guru Meditation error message is a joke - apparently the laptop you're using to control the droids is an Amiga. I'm not sure about this, but I think it always happens if you stand still for X amount of time, effectively auto-pausing the game until you do something.

    On weapons: In a game like Might and Magic or the AD&D games finding a better weapon doesn't change your actual offensive capability that much - a +1 longsword is roughly 10-20% more damage and 5% more chance to hit over +0 (depending on your and your enemy's stats). That's good to have, sure, but it's not a massive boost. Captive's different. That type of minor benefit in Captive is represented by upgrades within weapon types - upgrading Rapedo IV to Rapedo V or VI. In comparison, upgrading to the next tier of weapons is a huge leap - not equivalent to eight +1's because the tiers overlap a bit, but significant enough to, by guesstimate, straight up double your offensive power. New weapons are quite probably the most useful thing you can buy in the whole game.

    A few minor side notes about the enemies in the station: the giant cyborgs are the game's poster enemy - they're in the cover of the game. They fire spraygun blasts at you, and I'm not sure about this, but I think sprayguns might have a special property of going through normal shields. If you still have that fire shield you've been carrying, you might want to test it against them, see if it helps. The groups of four normal androids are meant to be androids of the same type as your party, so you're basically fighting multiple copies of yourself.

  12. Concerning ZX Spectrum RPGs, unfortunately there aren't many; most of 8-bit RPGs tended to be disk-based, and the Speccy didn't have disks for most of its life (and even when it had them, most games were just the tape versions dumped to disk). I'd argue that the best Spectrum RPG was the original Bard's Tale, which was basically the same as the C64 cassette version (no animations, fewer unique monster graphics, but other than that the entire game was there).

    I'd love to see you talk about The Lords of Midnight and its sequel, but I can't honestly call it an RPG (it's more of an adventure / strategy hybrid). OK, it's not less of an RPG than Lords of Chaos was, but...

    1. Journey's End is pretty good too

    2. Bard's Tale on the Spectrum... I have fond memories of it, but Lord, the re-winding...

    3. I remembered another one, a very unique Spectrum (and Amstrad CPC) RPG, Swords & Sorcery. It's already on Chet's list, from what I can see. Unfortunately, the sequel was never released -- though I think it would have been impossible on an 8-bit system.

  13. Clearly, the solution is to start over from the beginning, knowing everything you know now!

    1. No f*cking way. That would be insane. All Chet needs to do now is to just get better weapons and slug his way through. But I'm talking with what I can recall decades ago, in the body of a teen with fingers so dexterous he could breeze through Smoking Gun & Gradius without dying a single time.

      I don't know if it's possible for Chet to beat this game even if he redid everything since I myself ragequit on Smoking Gun a month ago.

  14. This post was very entertaining, I think because you went into a lot of detail.
    "Replacing my droid parts. When I get done, do I really have the same droid?"
    The brain chip remains the same!:)
    "The secret to surviving Captive--both financially and physically--seems to be to avoid getting hit at all." Yeh shame about that.

  15. upgrading Rapedo IV to Rapedo V or VI

    If this was an actual situation, I'd be extremely hesitant to equip my semi-autonomous droids with anything called a Rapedo.

  16. Aw nertz, I was waiting for Bad Blood. Oh well, you're the boss, applesauce.

  17. So I am considering adding "Bad Blood" to my own personal game queue, despite it not getting a CRPG Addict review. It looks like a spiritual successor to Times of Lore ( which the Addict did not like particularly at all. Chris Roberts also designed the Wing Commander games which I liked quite a bit-- but perhaps action RPGs was not really his thing.

    Anyone play through this?

    1. Me! I quit after a couple of hours because I have no f*cking idea what to do with that stupid TV and goddamn beer bottle on the screen!

    2. IIRC the beer level were your hitpoints.

  18. Rather you than me Chet. I would have binned this one long ago.

    I've never understood how anyone can enjoy this style of combat. It's like the worst parts of action RPGs and blobbers combined. Awful, senseless torture for the user.

    1. It's hardly the game's fault if you're too slow for it.

    2. I didn't play this, but I loved Dungeon Master. Most of them didn't have horribly hard combat - a normal RPG player could cope with the speed of play.

    3. Hmm, is it possible to slow down the game through dosbox? Of course, now that I'm saying this Chet has probably already won on normal speed.

  19. Well And you sure did try to 'fell swack' it there, Chet (I realize the actual wording is 'Swell Foop', but still. Poetic license). You done good! Too bad it never done good to you.

  20. A heads up regarding the rules for dual-classing in SotSB. It's substantially different to the book rules, and unfortunately, also different to the game documentation. I could not find the proper rules anywhere online. I provide the real deal below for your convenience:

    A human of any class can change to any other class.

    The criterion are 15 in your current class's primary attribute(s) and 17 in your new class's primary attribute(s).

    Contrary to what the manuals state, a primary attribute is any attribute for which that class has a minimum score, hence:

    Fighter: Str
    Cleric: Wis
    Thief: Dex (can't be lawful or chaotic good, for some reason)
    Magic-U: Int
    Ranger: Str, Int, Wis & Con (and has to be some sort of good, the only intersection with thief is neutral good)
    Paladin: Str, Int, Wis, Con & Cha (and has to be lawful good, so no thieves)

    As you can see, to dual class anything to Paladin, requires 5 scores of at least 17.

    You might be able to change to a third class once your second class is greater than your first class. I think I recall stories about power gamers playing through Curse multiple times to get a party comprised entirely of maxed ranger/cleric/mages.

  21. So is the goal of the space station to find explosives, plant them in the generator room, then blow yourself up?

    Perhaps to put you out of your misery?

    1. Space station has no generators or planet probes. Only thing to do is find yourself.

      I believe you CAN kill yourself, but it just results in a Game Over.

  22. SoTSB is one of those gold box games that I've heard of but never played my self along with treasures of - and a gateway to the savage frontier which were the last two goldbox games to be released unless I'm mistaken.

    1. Those three are probably the least good gold box games anyway.

    2. Treasures is supposed to be pretty good, or so I've heard at least.

    3. Spelljammer: Pirates of Realmspace is a half-Gold Box game, using its combat engine but not the overworld.


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