BattleTech is a wargaming and military science fiction franchise launched by FASA Corporation in 1984, acquired by WizKids in 2001, and owned since 2003 by Topps. The series began with FASA's debut of the board game BattleTech (originally named BattleDroids) by Jordan Weisman and L. Ross Babcock III and has since grown to include numerous expansions to the original game, several computer and video games, a collectible card game, a series of more than 100 novels, an animated television series and more.
- 1 Overview
- 2 Universe
- 3 References
- 4 External links
Chicago-based FASA Corporation's original 1984 game focused on enormous robotic, semi-humanoid battle machines battling in a science-fiction feudalistic dark age setting. The game was at first called BattleDroids. The name of the game was changed to BattleTech in the second edition because George Lucas and Lucasfilm claimed the rights to the term "droid"; the machines themselves were renamed BattleMechs from the second edition onward.
After FASA Corporation closed its doors in 2000, Wizkids bought the rights to the game in January 2001. They reworked the IP to launch their MechWarrior: Dark Age collectible miniatures game, but licensed the rights to continue to publish products for the old game to FanPro (itself a subsidiary of Fantasy Productions). Topps bought Wizkids in 2003, but this did not change any publishing agreements at that time. FanPro held the license to the original tabletop game (which they rebranded as "Classic BattleTech") until 2007. At that point Catalyst Game Labs (CGL) acquired the license from Topps. CGL continues to hold the license to this day; with the end of the MechWarrior: Dark Age miniatures game, the name of the traditional tabletop game has reverted to simply BattleTech.
Rather than create their own original robot art, FASA decided to use already-extant designs, originally been created for a variety of different Japanese anime: Dougram, Crusher Joe, and Macross. The rights to these images were licensed from Twentieth Century Imports (TCI). In later years, FASA abandoned these images as a result of a lawsuit brought against them by Playmates and Harmony Gold over the use of said images. No official broke the silence until 2007. Classic BattleTech line developer Randall N. Bills explained that FASA had sued Playmates over the use of images owned by FASA, but though Playmates was ordered to stop using the images in question, FASA received no financial compensation. After realizing how the use of licensed images made them vulnerable to lawsuits and afraid that such a suit would bankrupt the company, FASA made the decision to only use images owned by them and them alone. These anime-sourced BattleMechs continued to be referenced in-universe, but their images were no longer seen in new sourcebooks. This led them to be termed by fans as "the Unseen".
When Fantasy Productions licensed the property, these "Unseen" images were expanded to include all art produced "out-of-house" – that is, whose copyrights resided with the creators, not the company. Catalyst Game Labs has continued this practice. On 24 June 2009, Catalyst Game Labs announced that they had secured the rights to the "Unseen"; as a result, art depicting the original 'Mechs could be legally used again. However, an update on 11 August 2009 stated that this had fallen through, returning the original images to Unseen status once again. This update affects only the designs whose images originated from Macross. Since then, designs whose images originated from Dougram and Crusher Joe are no longer considered Unseen.
At its most basic, the game of BattleTech is played on a map sheet composed of hexagonal terrain tiles. The combat units are roughly 30-foot-tall (9.1 m) humanoid armored combat units called BattleMechs, powered by fusion reactors and armed with a variety of weapons. Typically, these are represented on the game board by two-inch-tall miniature figurines that the players can paint to their own specifications, although older publications such as the 1st edition included small scale plastic models originally created for the Macross TV series, and the 2nd edition boxed set included small cardboard pictures (front and back images) that were set in rubber bases to represent the units. The game is played in turns, each of which represents 10 seconds of real time, with each turn composed of multiple phases.
The game's popularity spawned several variants and expansions to the core system, including CityTech which fleshed out urban operations, infantry, and vehicle combat, AeroTech which focused on air and space-based operations, and BattleSpace which detailed large spacecraft combat. FASA also published numerous sourcebooks, known as Technical Readouts, which featured specifications for new combat units that players could select from. However, despite the large number of such pre-designed BattleMechs, vehicles, aerospace units and other military hardware, the creators also established a system of custom design rules, enabling players to generate their own units and field them in combat.
FASA launched two additional systems to complement the core game: BattleTroops, an infantry combat system, and BattleForce, a large-scale combat simulator governing the actions of massed BattleTech units. The Succession Wars, a board game released in 1987, is one of only two purely strategic titles of the series (the other being "The Inner Sphere in Flames" from the Combat Operations book). The Succession Wars is played on a political star map, with players trying to capture regions of space.
Recent years have seen a trend of consolidating the expansions into "core products" for efficiency. Beginning under FanPro's aegis, then continued under Catalyst Game Labs, the various rulesets have been combined into a series of Core Rulebooks:
- Total Warfare (TW) integrates the original boardgame with CityTech, BattleTroops, and parts of AeroTech 2 (itself a consolidation of AeroTech and BattleSpace) pertaining to atmospheric operations (such as simplified rules for Dropship operations, and the use of AeroTech Fighters in atmospheric combat).
- Tactical Operations (TO) supplements Total Warfare with rules for expanded game-play (advanced rules). These include an expanded weapons / equipment table listing (Lostech), advanced unit types (such as "mobile structures", planetary fortresses, and "large support vehicles") as well as numerous optional gameplay enhancements for planetary-level conquests (consolidating Maximum Tech and other expansion packs, like Explorer Corps).
- Strategic Operations (SO) consolidates the rules for multi-game campaigns within a single star system (such as unit morale and management, repair and maintenance, equipment salvage, in-game construction, and unit-level economics) with the remaining AeroTech 2 rules omitted from TW. These include the introduction of capital-level spacecraft (Jumpships / Warships / Space Stations / Fighter Squadrons) and equipment, space warfare rules, and the use of space travel as a gameplay element. A revised version of BattleForce is also consolidated into the book.
- TechManual (TM) consolidates the customization rules with technical fluff from various products for units compliant to Total Warfare rules. (Construction rules for the missing units are listed in TO or SO, as these units are not considered to be "tournament legal" for gameplay).
- Interstellar Operations (IO) was originally a project that had been available in beta form. The book was designed to introduce rules for faction-wide operations (such as entire Clans / Succession Houses / Empires) across multiple campaigns and star systems--up to and including the entire Inner Sphere. The book itself would have also included an expansion of additional technologies which stipulated per time period in the game universe's history, including revised rules for more advanced types of vehicles such as Land-Air 'Mechs, Superheavy BattleMechs, and unique period technologies. The size of the materials slated for the book forced its splitting into two volumes; the second, which was initially known as the Campaign Companion, was renamed.
- Campaign Operations (CO) is the self-contained companion book to Interstellar Operations. The book provides core rules handling player campaigns, using different rules sets. Taking older legacy rules found in previous source books, CO presented them in a singular core rulebook for better accessibility for the player. Included in the publication are rules to build environments for players to create and maintain combat units to be played in the game universe and rules allowing them to design their own worlds and star systems if desired.
The BattleTech franchise first extended beyond the tabletop wargame format with the release of MechWarrior, a role-playing game in which players portray BattleMech pilots or other characters in the 31st century. The RPG system has been republished in several editions and expanded by various sourcebooks and supplements. In 1996, FASA also introduced the BattleTech Collectible Card Game, a CCG developed by Wizards of the Coast, creators of the popular Magic: The Gathering.
WizKids, owners of the BattleTech franchise after 2001, introduced a collectable miniatures-based variant of the classic tabletop game called MechWarrior: Dark Age in 2002 (later renamed MechWarrior: Age of Destruction). The game incorporates WizKids' "Clix System", a means of tracking the combat statistics and abilities of each figure by turning a dial in its base.
BattleMechs, the hulking flagship units of the franchise, made a natural subject for computer emulation, and so in 1988 Infocom released a PC based RPG called BattleTech: The Crescent Hawk's Inception. It was later followed up with a sequel, BattleTech: The Crescent Hawk's Revenge in 1990. Both games were reasonably well received, although aside from storyline continuity the second game held few similarities to its predecessor. The first pure simulation of BattleMech combat, however, was released for computers in 1989. Titled MechWarrior and published by Activision, the single-player game gave users the opportunity to pilot a range of Mechs and engage in combat against computer-controlled opponents. Sequels MechWarrior 2 (1995), MechWarrior 3 (1999) and MechWarrior 4 (2000) created simulations of progressively higher technical sophistication. The most recent commercial game was MechWarrior 4: Mercenaries (2002). "Mekpaks" for MechWarrior 4: Mercenaries made by Mektek were released, adding new weapons, Mechs and graphics. A group also modded Crysis for the release of a BattleTech game known as MechWarrior: Living Legends and the first public beta was released on December 26, 2009. A possible MechWarrior 5 was being produced, though it lingered in development for about a year and was eventually canceled. Originally, Smith & Tinker owned the BattleTech electronic rights, but, after failing to find funding for a new MechWarrior game, the rights to the series were bought by Piranha Games in 2011, who had originally been working with Smith & Tinker to create MechWarrior 5. On July 9, 2009, it was confirmed that the franchise would be rebooted. Further trailers were released and it was confirmed that the timeline would be set around 3015. Though it seemed that the legal troubles which originally plagued FASA due to the similarities between BattleTech mechs and those in Robotech/Macross had returned to cause some troubles for Piranha Games, the company later released a statement noting that their primary troubles had been with finding a publisher, which eventually lead to the announcement of a free-to-play reboot called Mechwarrior Online, set around the start of the clan invasions. The game was published in 2013 by Infinite Games Publishing, the same company which later published MechWarrior Tactics. IGP filed for bankruptcy and sold off the rights in December 2014.
The franchise saw its first online-dedicated game with Multiplayer BattleTech: EGA in 1992, which was followed by Multiplayer Battletech: Solaris in 1996. 1994 saw the series' first console original title, the simply titled BattleTech for the Sega Genesis. Other notable titles include the MechCommander series for the PC (MechCommander in 1998 and MechCommander 2 in 2001) and the MechAssault series (MechAssault and MechAssault 2: Lone Wolf in 2002 and 2004, respectively, for the Xbox, and MechAssault: Phantom War in 2006 for the Nintendo DS).
A fan community also provides an online free version of the tabletop game, called MegaMek. This project led to follow up projects like MekWars, which aims at making campaigns out of MegaMek games. There were also a series of fan-created Battletech MUSEs then later MUXes (text-only multiplayer games with ASCII images, accessed by telnet connection) in the 1990s, starting with Battletech 3025 MUSE in 1991.
Virtual World Entertainment
The BattleTech creators' goal of creating an immersive BattleMech simulation came to fruition in 1990 with the opening of the first BattleTech Center at the North Pier Mall in Chicago. The BattleTech Center featured 16 networked, full-sized cockpits or "pods" that resembled a fully functional BattleMech cockpit with over 80 separate controls. Each player selected a 'Mech to pilot into combat against up to seven other human players in the other cockpits.
Virtual World Entertainment, the company that managed the centers, later opened many other Virtual World centers around the world. It eventually merged with FASA Interactive Technologies (FIT) to form Virtual World Entertainment Group (VWEG) to better capitalize on various FASA properties. In 1999, Microsoft Corporation purchased VWEG to integrate FIT into Microsoft Game Studios and sold VWE. VWE continues to develop and support the current BattleTech VR platform called the Tesla II system, featuring BattleTech: Firestorm.
Members of the "pod" ownership community continue to update the software and hardware for the Tesla II cockpits (e.g., by developing kits that allow to replace the original CRT monitors with modern LCD ones) for both private, commercial, and convention use.
The popularity of the BattleTech games and the fictional universe they inhabit has led to a number of non-gaming related projects. These projects depict stories, characters and groups interacting within the context of the universe and its elements. The projects include multimedia productions, and various works of fiction in both graphical or text based formats:
- An extensive line of popular science fiction novels, with more than 100 titles published to date. The novels are set in both the Classic BattleTech era (mid-3000s) and the Dark Age era (3130s). The original (Classic) BattleTech novels were produced between 1986 and 2002, while the Dark Age era Novels were produced from 2002 to early 2008. Publication of titles under the Classic BattleTech and MechWarrior lines resumed at the end of 2008.
- An online writing project named BattleCorps produces novelettes set in various eras of the BattleTech universe. The subscription based BattleCorps offers monthly stories to is members covering all eras of the Battletech universe. Currently BattleCorps appears to be shut down as no new stories have been released in the first two quarters of 2017.
- The Spider and the Wolf, a comic-style sourcebook published by FASA in 1986 as a supplement to the original board game. The comic depicts the inception of the "Black Widow Company" in 3015 and offers a brief introduction to the BattleTech universe as a prelude on the inside cover. Three potential game scenarios are presented in the back of the book, behind the story.
- A series of licensed comics, published in the late 1980s by Blackthorne Publishing under the BattleTech and BattleForce monikers. The BattleTech comics included an "annual" and a "3-D" special issue, while the third of the three-issue BattleForce comic was left unpublished. The comics are not officially dated; but due to real-life publication date and plot context, speculation suggests that setting is around, or in the year 3025.
- A five-issue comic, BattleTech: Fallout was published by Malibu Comics in 1994 and 1995. The series is set in early 3050 during the Clan Invasion and depicts a group of disparate fugitives pairing with the Belt Pirates. The two parties form an irregular BattleMech force to remove the Clans from the Star's End system. The first issue has two special editions, one with gold print ("gold edition") and one with a holographic cover. The fifth issue (titled "Issue #0"), offers three very short supplemental stories outside of the main plot of the comic.
A detailed timeline stretching from the late 20th century to the mid-32nd describes humanity's technological, social and political development and spread through space both in broad historical terms and through accounts of the lives of individuals who experienced and shaped that history, with an emphasis on (initially) the year 3025 and creating an ongoing storyline from there. Generally, BattleTech assumes that its history is identical to real-world history up to until ca. the year 1984, when the reported histories begin to diverge; in particular, the game designers did not foresee the fall of the Soviet Union, which plays a major role past 1990 in the fictional BattleTech history. Individual lifestyles remain largely unchanged from those of modern times, due in part to stretches of protracted interplanetary warfare during which technological progress slowed or even reversed. Cultural, political and social conventions vary considerably between worlds, but feudalism is widespread, with many states ruled by hereditary lords and other nobility, below which are numerous social classes.
Above all, the central theme of BattleTech is conflict, consistent with the franchise's wargaming core. Interstellar and civil wars, planetary battles, factionalization and infighting, as well as institutionalized combat in the shape of arena contests and duelling, form the grist of both novelized fiction and game backstories.
BattleTech's fictional history covers the approximately 1,150 years from the end of the 20th century to the middle of the 32nd. Most works in the series are set during the early to middle decades of the 31st century, though a few publications concern earlier ages. MechWarrior: Dark Ages and its related novels take place in the mid 3100s.
The level of technology evident in BattleTech is an unusual blend of the highly futuristic and the nearly modern. The universe is largely based in hard science fiction concepts — much of the technology used is either similar in advancement to that of the present day, or based on technology considered plausible in the near-future, such as the railgun. A handful of exceptions, notably faster-than-light interstellar travel and superluminal communication, depend on purely fictional or speculative principles. Radically advanced tech mixes with seemingly anachronistic technologies such as internal combustion engines and projectile weapons. Artificial intelligence, nanotechnology, androids, and many other staples of future fiction are generally absent or downplayed. Incessant warfare is generally blamed for the uneven advancement, the destruction of industry and institutes of learning over the centuries of warfare having resulted in the loss of much technology and knowledge. As rivalries and conflicts have dragged on, advanced technologies are redeveloped for the battlefield.
One of the earliest and most significant events in BattleTech technology was the advent of faster-than-light travel. Scientists first successfully tested an FTL engine in 2107, and late in the following year mounted the first long-range manned voyage, a 12-light year jump to the Tau Ceti star system. However, faster-than-light communication would not be developed until 2630. Technological advancements continued slowly but steadily through the third millennium, notably including the development of the first BattleMech in 2439. This advancement reached its zenith during the latter years of the Star League with computing, communications, sensors, power and motor systems, medical sciences, and other technologies reaching high levels of refinement.
Following the collapse of the Star League in 2781, its constituent states fell into a protracted struggle for supremacy known as The Succession Wars. The conflict saw the common use of weapons of mass destruction and the widespread destruction of factories, shipyards, and research facilities, resulting in a slow but steady degradation of scientific and technological expertise. By the dawn of the fourth millennium, few sites in the Inner Sphere retained the ability to construct or even repair the more sophisticated Star League-era devices, and lost or hidden caches of such "lostech" became highly sought after. A mercenary unit, the Gray Death Legion, discovered one such cache, including a Star League memory core, on the planet Helm in 3026, a discovery that sparked a major technological renaissance.
The exodus of much of the Star League Defense Force after the League's collapse was also a significant blow to technological development in the Inner Sphere since it included many of the most advanced vessels and pieces of hardware. Later to become known as the Clans, these forces, unlike those in the Inner Sphere, retained their technology and made refinements and enhancements that set them ahead of their Successor States counterparts. The return of the Clans to the Inner Sphere in 3048 prompted a flurry of technological development.
In August 3132, a mysterious calamity collapsed the Hyperpulse Generator network, inhibiting interstellar communication and heralding a slow-down of technological development.
Faster-than-light travel across interstellar distances is common in the BattleTech universe and depends on an advanced space-warping technology known as the Kearny-Fuchida Drive. In a K-F jump, an initiator produces a hyperspace field which is then magnified and focused by a large, superconductive mass of titanium/germanium. The amplified field envelopes the ship and pushes it through a hole in normal space called a "jump point," through which it enters hyperspace. Depending on the distance to be traversed, the ship spends up to 15 seconds in hyperspace before reemerging into normal space through another jump point at the destination. The opening and closing of jump points destroys large numbers of subatomic particles and produces a pulse of electromagnetic energy that can be detected at considerable range.
Jumps are normally made to and from points far above a solar system's ecliptic, usually where the gravitational influence in the system is most stable; however, so-called "pirate points" exist where local gravitational pull is stable enough to use; though quicker, using such points is also more dangerous due to the random appearance of so-called "Lagrange points". Jumping requires copious amounts of energy, usually gathered from the nearby star over the course of approximately a week by large solar collectors similar to solar sails and stored in giant capacitors. A quicker but less common technique is to draw the energy from a fusion reactor, or to take advantage of recharge stations in the vicinity of major jump points. Jump failures can result from charging the drive too quickly, poor drive maintenance, or spatial anomalies.
BattleTech spacecraft range considerably in size and function, but generally fall into three broad categories – jumpships, dropships, and small craft.
Vessels equipped with K-F drives are known as jumpships and range in mass up to 500,000 tons, though warships, a subclass of jumpship hardened against attack and fitted with naval weapons, may mass up to 2.5 million tons. The size and delicacy of a jumpship's K-F drive and the danger of jumping while in a gravitational well limits such vessels to deep space and precludes planetary landings. Jumpships often use sail-like collectors to gather solar energy and fusion engines for sub-light maneuvers, and normally travel with a small retinue of dropships.
Dropships are fusion-powered craft built to transport people and cargo between space-bound jumpships and planetary surfaces, or between jumpships. Dropships lack faster-than-light engines and instead use fusion motors for covering short interplanetary distances, for orbital and atmospheric maneuvers, and for takeoffs and landings. They mass anywhere between 400 and 100,000 tons, and are usually of either aerodyne (aerodynamic) or spheroidal configuration. Dropships are used for both military and civilian/commercial transportation.
The smallest vessels capable of space travel are known simply as "small craft," or as aerospace craft if capable of planetary landings. They may serve military functions (as fighters or bombers) or civilian purposes (e.g., transportation).
HyperPulse Generator (HPG) arrays serve as the primary means of interstellar communication in the BattleTech universe and operate on worlds throughout inhabited space.
HPGs operate on a similar principle as the Kearny-Fuchida jump drive, sending a directional radio transmission instantaneously from one station to another over a distance of up to 50 light years. Though the nature of the technology allows only unidirectional broadcasts, paired HPGs can provide simultaneous bidirectional communication. Given the demand and expense of hyperpulse communication, messages are frequently bundled into batches of hundreds, sent simultaneously. While the transmission itself is nearly instantaneous, it may be days, weeks, or months before a message is sent, though one can pay a higher fee for "priority service." A message can reach any station in the Inner Sphere in approximately six months, with transit times of as little as a few days possible at great expense.
The first successful hyperpulse broadcast occurred on New Year's Day, 2630. Over the next 150 years, the Star League constructed a network of generators that extended hyperpulse communications to numerous worlds throughout the Inner Sphere. During the Succession Wars, ComStar assumed the operation and maintenance of the network, shrouding the system's operation in mystical trappings. Ostensibly neutral, ComStar leveraged its communications monopoly for political purposes, occasionally imposing "interdictions" (denials of service) on the Great Houses, which crippled their victims by preventing them from coordinating a defense of their realm. Following the fracturing of ComStar after the battle of Tukayyid in 3052, hyperpulse technology slowly began to disseminate to the states of the Inner Sphere. A mysterious calamity collapsed the Hyperpulse Generator network in August 3132, effectively ending practical interstellar communication over much of inhabited space. In the wake of the collapse, jumpships served as a kind of "pony express," ferrying messages from world to world.
The most visible and distinctive machinery in the BattleTech franchise are the mecha known as 'Mechs. Those tailored for combat are known as BattleMechs and, with other less common forms such as WorkMechs and ProtoMechs, are central to BattleTech wargaming and feature prominently in most spinoffs and related fiction.
Neural engineering, particularly in the form brain-computer interfaces, is not uncommon in the BattleTech universe. Its principal application is the "neurohelmet," a device used in nearly all BattleMechs that gives the 'Mech's pilot the ability to control some aspects of the machine's behavior simply by thought. The neurohelmet provides balance information to the 'Mech to assist in walking and maneuvering. It also acts as a security device, limiting access to authorized users via alpha brain wave pattern recognition (many BattleMechs mentioned in the novels also incorporate more conventional security measures such as voice-recognition and personalised codes).
Other applications of bionics range from prosthetic limbs to elective implants intended to improve strength or enhance the senses.
During prosperous eras of colonization, entrepreneurs employed jumpships to transport ice bergs from water-rich planets to arid colony worlds. Colonies dependent on this ice trade prospered while it continued, but little true terraforming was accomplished in this way and the colonies tended to wither when the trade was interrupted by wars. The practice was largely abandoned in the 27th century due to advances in water purification.
Terraforming, the process of adapting an inhospitable planetary environment into one suitable for human occupation, occurs with varying degrees of success through history. Terran engineers mounted repeated attempts over the course of centuries to moderate the dense and acidic atmosphere of Venus, succeeding enough to allow limited surface colonization under protective domes.
Terra is the homeworld of mankind (no longer commonly called Earth, although this name is sometimes used) and former capital of the Star League. Several groups have held Terra, including the Terran Alliance, Terran Hegemony, ComStar, Word of Blake, and the Republic of the Sphere; most of these nations fought bitter struggles upon Terra, scarring the world.
The Inner Sphere, heart of the BattleTech universe, contains all worlds within 500 light-years of Terra. While a variety of smaller states have come and gone, the Inner Sphere has historically been dominated by five "Great Houses" who rule over their separate dominions: House Davion (Federated Suns), House Liao (Capellan Confederation), House Marik (Free Worlds League), House Steiner (Lyran Commonwealth), and House Kurita (Draconis Combine). (The term "Inner Sphere" sometimes refers to these houses collectively). The leader of each Great House claims to be the rightful successor to the rule of the Star League, and so the nations the Houses rules over are known as the Successor States.
The space surrounding the Inner Sphere contains a number of independent nations, known collectively as the Periphery. The largest of these nations (the Outworlds Alliance, Taurian Concordat, Magistracy of Canopus, and Rim Worlds Republic) predate the Star League and rival the Successor States themselves in size, but are vastly inferior economically and militarily. More moderately sized nations, such as the Marian Hegemony or Bandit Kingdoms, also lie near the Inner Sphere. The Periphery contains countless other independent nations, many consisting of a single star system each and rarely playing a significant role in Inner Sphere politics. The mostly uncharted space beyond the nearby Periphery states is known as the Deep Periphery and contains numerous pirate havens and lost Star League colonies.
During the fall of the aforementioned Star League, the Star League Defense Force exiled itself and eventually settled in the Deep Periphery. They reformed into the Clans, a warrior-centric caste society relying on genetic manipulation and artificial birth. The four strongest of these Clans returned to the Inner Sphere as would-be conquerors in 3049, were reinforced by three more Clans a year later, and were joined in the late 3060s by another two. Of the original twenty Clans, by 3067 three were absorbed, two were annihilated, two fragmented, two defected, and one was abjured. The Clan Occupation Zones together occupy a region roughly equivalent to one of the Successor States.
The Inner Sphere is home to many private military companies. Some of them are quite powerful, and their actions have influenced the history of the universe. Among the most famous mercenary groups are the Wolf's Dragoons, Eridani Light Horse, Kell Hounds, Northwind Highlanders, Gray Death Legion, and McCarron's Armored Cavalry.
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