Pirates! FAQ

Sid Meier’s Pirates! Prerelease Information

Last Updated on December 11th, 2004

    The Game

  • The publisher will be Atari, the developer Firaxis Games, and the game will be a multi-genre game (combining strategy, role-playing, action, and adventure). Pirates! is scheduled for release November 16th, 2004 (actual release on November 22nd). The XBox version of Pirates is planned for release in the Spring of 2005
  • XBox: Multiplayer will be available with XBox Live!, the game will also support Live! features like leaderboards and ranking systems
  • A Limited Edition version of Pirates! will also be available. It will include exclusive content including the original 1987 version of the game (Pirates! Gold) and "making of" feature. The Limited Edition will also have mods, developer diaries, tips and tricks and a lot of the early concept art. It will also feature the game itself on DVD-ROM
  • The system requirements for the game are: Operating System: Windows 98/Me/2000/XP; Processor: Pentium/equivalent to 1.0 Ghz or higher; Memory: 256 MB RAM; Hard Disk Space: 1.2 GB free; CD-ROM Speed: 4X speed (DVD-ROM required for the limited addition); Video: 32 MB video card with Hardware T&L support (device should be compatible with DirectX® version 9.0b or higher); Sound: Windows 98/Me/2000/XP compatible sound card (device should be compatible with DirectX version 9.0b or higher); DirectX: DirectX version 9.0b (included in game) or higher *
  • Eagle Games is also working on a board game of Pirates! (they also worked on the Civilization III board game), playing the game should take about 60 minutes or so
  • Location will be in and around the Caribbean. Here is a map:
  • You still operate under English, Spanish, French, or Dutch alignment
  • You'll choose from five starting points, 1600, 1620, 1640, 1660 or 1680, each of which reflect the population, ethnicity, and economic status (etc, etc.) of the local ports
  • The game will use NDL’s Gamebryo (also known as the Marrowind) engine
  • Game style is clean, historically accurate (ships, ammo, location, etc.), but exaggerated. Everything is stylized
  • The PC game will be fully moddable, and you'll be able to insert your own ship flags, sail emblems, characters skins, clothing, and even governor's daughters, and even add a female pirate character which you can play with. This allows you to truly customize your game your own way
  • The game will even output an HTML document with your greatest achievements at the conclusion of your pirate’s career
  • The game also includes surround sound, making it a better experience and more realistic. Cannonballs whiz by during ship battles. You can hear the locals partying in the tavern as you sneak out of town, and thunderstorms roll by as you sail the Caribbean
  • As you drive your opponent back in a duel, the music becomes positive. As your opponent drives you back, the music becomes dark and ominous (see “Navel Battles - Can You Survive” for more information on dueling)
  • As you sail by any port, you'll hear music that reflects its stature and nationality. A wealthy English port will have robust music, while a poor English port will have the same music with a slower, darker treatment
  • Five difficulty levels, so you can play at your own pace
  • The game will also be non-linear, for unlimited replay ability
  • You can focus on different parts of the game, therefore, you are not forced to do anything you do not wish to do
  • There is no fixed route through the game, no set agenda, no fixed ending
  • Players are also presented with a series of goals they can try to accomplish before retiring. One of those is making oneself the most feared pirate on the seven seas by challenging and beating in combat the 9 (you are the tenth) most dreaded names in the Caribbean. Another is discovering the whereabouts of long lost family members (see “The Port and the Tavern“ for more information on lost relatives)
  • Game ends only when you decide to retire (but you will have that chance after each successful battle), or if your character ages too much to be able to do anything successfully, fortunately, this does not happen quickly
  • Your character ages at a rate of about a day per second (365 seconds = one year, which means that for six minutes, your character has aged one year). This will also change as you sail. Often, if you sail east, the time will pass by slower because your ship is sailing slower, due to the winds blowing against the ship
  • Typically, a good game will last from eight to ten hours, or even longer. You can choose to play shorter games if you wish. You can also save at any time, but the flexibility of the overall gameplay is always there
  • The developers aim to keep the game full of adventure, but leave the things that are considered not fun out. This includes dyeing from common diseases that pirates had to deal with in the 17th century. Your character is the hero, not the villain
  • The main goal of the game is to develop your avatar from an accidental pirate with huge ambitions to a powerful and notorious captain with a huge fleet and even more money


    Life and the Sea

  • Before you sail out, you must choose your game. You choose the era, and your pirate’s skill. This ranges from Gunnery, Fencing, Charm, Medicine, and Navigation
  • Starting a new game runs though through a brief set of introduction screens that explain how you were once just another deckhand before you instigated a mutiny and took over your ship. You'll then have a small cache of gold and a substandard ship with middling cargo tonnage at your disposal. You might want to visit a port first (see “The Port and the Tavern” to read more about the port)
  • XBox: Firepower, Defense, Speed and Turning are rated from 1 to 5 on the different ships, 5 being the best. You get to select that when choosing your ship at the start menu
  • XBox: There also seem to be “Power-Ups,” this feature improves your attack and other ship-related status. This feature is again, for the XBox version only
  • Your character cannot be killed, the worst that can happen is him being imprisoned (see “Back to Dry Land” for more information on prisons)
  • You have to make many decisions, and each one presents new openings and dangers
  • As your character ages, he gets gray hair, he won’t be able to sail as well, his reflexes slow down, and the governor’s daughters won’t be attracted to him as much (see “Dancing With Politics” to read more about the governor’s daughters)
  • 27 different ship types, each with its own ammo and other features
  • You'll have your own ship (or fleet of ships, and up to eight. You will be able to use only one when you attack other ships) and free reign to do as you please
  • Sailing your ship is easy. Just use the keyboard and raise or lower sails to control your speed
  • You cannot sail forever, even if you have enough food. Your crew would want to get back to land and divide the plunder. That said, if you plan to sail for a long time, make sure you have a lot of victories in which you get a lot of gold. Either that, or have special items which higher morale
  • There will be more than a few treasure fleets. You can find information on its whereabouts from the different taverns you might visit (to read more about these treasure fleets, or the tavern, see “The Port and the Tavern”)
  • Rather than being abstracted a few days out of town, each ship travels in real time from town to town performing whatever mission the town AI finds necessary
  • Troop transports reinforce a town's military strength so if you take them out you'll reduce that town's ability to defend itself from attack. Ships carrying colonists or immigrants increase a town's population and, by extension, it's prices for commodities. Deciding what you do to these ships will shape the course of the entire game. Even the seizure of a single military payroll ship can have consequences that ripple all across the Caribbean
  • As you sail, pull out your spyglass to zoom in on towns. If you see an enemy ship coming, you can look at it from a safe distance and observe it. You can see if the deck is full of people, if the sails are in good position, or if they are running out their guns in anticipation of a combat
  • The interface is simple and informative. The top left corner contains the goals you have to peruse (or want to pursue). The lower left corner contains the most information, raging from gold, year, crew morale, fame and wind direction. Crew's mood mostly depends on the amount of gold each pirate receives (a lot of gold and few pirates means happy crew). The lower left corner contains control information.
  • The sailing sequences, playable either from an isometric or chase view, reveal a living world with a compelling and convincing wind and sea model
  • As you sail, you can zoom in and out from your ship
  • Smuggling is a bigger and more effective part of the game than before. You can even run trade to cities that are paying good rates for commodities
  • Shifting political climate along with a working economic system in the Caribbean based on ship trade. Also, everything effects the game
  • Every ship in the game has a starting point and a destination, they do not just move around randomly. Apart from the ships belonging to one of the four nations (English, Spanish, French and Dutch) there are also other pirate ships as well as Indian war canoes which also represent the traffic of the Caribbean at the time
  • Storms are represented by thick, dark clouds and lightning (you may want to avoid them in some cases). You can use them to “slingshot” your ship around the wind
  • The environment springs to life as you notice different animals


    Navel Battles - Can You Survive?

  • The most action-packed portion of the game seems to be in its ship battles
  • The ship battles take place in a full 3D environment, either from an aerial perspective or one closer to the horizon
  • Take on various foes including merchant and military captains, ferocious pirates, evil gentry and even rival suitors -- each with different skills and abilities
  • Before you attack, you are given the enemy ship’s status, including where it is going, how long it has been on sea, what its intentions are (is it a merchant ship, military, etc.), and also the ship’s name (ex: War Galleon) and sometimes what it is transporting (ex: Immigrants). To read more about what role immigrants or colonists play in the game, see “Life and the Sea”
  • You'll also get news and information about nearby ships and current events when you notice traffic
  • To start a naval battle, sail towards the enemy ship and attack (you can attack any ship, even from your own nationality), or if you think you have a chance, you can board it without a ship-to-ship attack and fight off it’s crew. Before an attack you are also given an option to change your flagship, or to not attack
  • During combat, you can see each cannon move as it fires with the little gun ports opening and closing. Crew now scurries up and down the deck, attending to the guns or waving little flags
  • Naval battles are in real-time. This means that you do not really have to rush through them, as your character stops aging at that time
  • Besides seeing all the graphical details, text is shown on the enemy ship that tells you whether it has certain upgrades such as copper plating, cotton sails, chain shot, grape shot, or even the condition of the ship and obviously how many guns and crewman it has
  • A carefully aimed shot may even knock the enemy’s rigging down therefore, stopping their ship
  • XBox: XBox gamers will use an adjustable power meter to determine the distance of their cannon shots
  • If loosing a ship-to-ship attack, you have a better chance to escape at night
  • In some cases, you might be able to dive into the water and escape to another ship in your fleet if you are loosing a fight
  • If two AI ships are at battle (an example: England and Spain), you can enter the battle, or you can wait until it has finished and then attack the last, and possibly wounded ship
  • Keep in mind that the more you damage the enemy ship the more crew you will need to sail it back to port, if you decide to keep the ship
  • Different kinds of cannon shot; double shot for the hull, chain shot will tear holes in the opposing ship’s sails and rigging (thereby negatively affecting their maneuverability), and grapeshot shot will target their crew. Rake shot may also be simulated when you shoot from behind an enemy ship, so the shot travels the length of the ship
  • Bear in mind that the bigger the cannon, the longer it takes to load, so you better rely on smaller and easily maneuverable vessels which have less powerful weapons but are more likely to avoid enemy fire
  • If you have sufficiently damaged the ship and decimated the crew, the enemy may simply surrender (a higher chance of that happening on lower levels)
  • As you have more battle successes, your reputation increases and the loyalty and size of your crew will too (you hire more people in the tavern. For more information on the tavern see “The Port and the Tavern”)
  • Also be aware that as your reputation among one nation increases, it will definitely decrease with another (presumably your enemies)
  • When you are on board an enemy ship, the game switches to a “different” (not really different, it’s the same engine, but has a different look to the sequence) 3D engine (the 3D Adventure Engine, you also play under it when on land, etc.), the opposing captain will represent his nationality and type of ship, and fighting between your crew and the enemy's crew begins
  • XBox: Dueling in the XBox version will be much more action-oriented. The controls will also be a little bit different. There will be more combos and possibly more special moves
  • XBox: When on the ship you may have to fight many people to get to the captain, where in the PC version, you just fight the captain
  • How well your crew fights depends on morale. This is cleverly monitored by keeping the gold-to-crew ratio in check. Fencing moves, such as slashes, parries and thrusts, are available via the number pad. Morale is mostly dependant on how you fight
  • You can grab anything within your reach and use it as a weapon (a bucket can be thrown at chance, for example)
  • Nearly all of the minigames in Pirates!, including swordfighting, battles, and others, use the keyboard number pad for controls by default (though you can remap these keys or use a gamepad if you so desire). Swing around poles and ropes, knock enemy down a flight of stairs, kick them off balconies and do other moves, all with combining the keys you use
  • When swordfighting, if your opponent does a low slash, you'll need to respond with a jump. A taunt deserves a thrust, and an enemy thrust requires a parry
  • Different ship captains will be armed accordingly. For example, when attacking a merchant ship, the captain will be with velvet and frills while a warship’s captain will be with a metal breastplate and conquistador-style helmet
  • Success leads to the riches of the newly captured ship; it’s crew is added to yours, you can also choose to upgrade and improve the ship, sale the ship, or the plundering and sinking of the ship if you decide that you cannot sail it (due to the amount of crew you have or the damage it has sustained), or it is too damaged to repair (or you just don’t have the money to repair it)
  • If opposing ship’s crew comes to your ship, they can dump you overboard, or take you prisoner, just as they can when you are on their ship
  • When an individual is knocked off the ship (possibly from your firing a cannon), you can pick him up, so now he will be your new member of the crew (even if he was an enemy)
  • Barrels of cargo can also be knocked off a ship as you shoot at it with cannon. When you pick up a barrel, it adds 50 gold
  • If you constantly keep loosing duels, your governor may offer you a chance to practice with him (see “Dancing With Politics” to read more about the governor)
  • There may also be a villain pirate responsible for kidnapping your parents (forcing you to leave your own little mission or location of operation in some cases), he may also have scattered your family across the Caribbean. You can discover clues to help you find your long lost relatives, and if you choose to, you can decide to track down that same pirate and go to battle with him, although it won‘t be easy
  • You can bribe natives to raid nearby villages, in some cases, you have to protect these people in order for them to accomplish their mission successfully. They operate with War Canoes
  • Each time you divide the plunder from a successful cruise, you'll have the chance to retire from the pirate life altogether. At that point, the game calculates your score . This is based on the amount of gold you've obtained, your ranks in the various navies and your romantic involvements. The final score will be given as a post-pirate profession
  • At higher difficulty levels, you get to keep a larger percentage of your plunder


    Back to Dry Land

  • When you sail to a city, you will be given the following options: Talk to the Governor, Visit the Tavern, Trade with Merchant, Consult with Shipwright, Divide the Plunder, Check Status or Sail Away. But when near an enemy city, you can either sail away, attack the town, or sneak into the town
  • In order to capture and loot the town, you’ll also have to sneak into it and into a specific building, in some cases. This gives you a freedom of choosing two different tactics to loot a town, the already mentioned one, or straight out storming a town, which involves the turn-based sequence
  • Land battles occur when you are trying to take over a fort or a town. Your crew is divided into divisions based on ability
  • The new land battle system will feature simultaneous turn-based battles. These battles will be more straight forewords and less time-consuming. Land battles are also the most rewarding if you are successful, and the most risky if you are not
  • You and your rivals will have several companies of one or more of the following: infantry, pistoleers, cavalry, and artillery. Pirates armed with cutlasses and buccaneers armed with muskets
  • Against you the enemy can field units such as riflemen, Indian scouts, and cavalry. Each unit takes its turn moving, shooting or engaging in hand-to-hand combat. As you move across the terrain, you'll find that the facing of a unit, the terrain it occupies and its height factor into its combat effectiveness
  • Units are also rated in terms of morale. You can see how shaken a unit is by the state of its flag. If the flag is bright and waving proudly, you needn't worry. But if it is shot through and drooping, perhaps you ought to hold those units back or move a group of officers closer to them
  • You'll need to mind some strategic concerns, like the power and speed of cavalry against the relative weakness of infantry
  • You may end up in a one-on-one duel with the captain of a garrison, whom you push back into the town's armory. After you've beaten him back enough to send him tumbling against a keg of gunpowder, your character will toss a lighted fuse into the building, causing both of you to run for cover (but granting you the victory). This is just one of the ways to succeed in a land battle. This happens when the town has less than 100 soldiers
  • Economic network between towns. You can isolate a town by attacking [successfully] any ship that comes to its harbor. Eventually, you will be able to overtake and control the town by putting a governor of your choice in it (see “Dancing With Politics” for more information on the governor and what role he plays)
  • You can also attack forts as well as towns. After you attack a fort, if you are successful in battling the fort’s commander, you get to have the fort’s riches
  • Failure to overtake an enemy ship (or for that matter, failure winning any battle) leads to you being prisoner for months (game wise). You can attempt to escape from the dungeon and town as soon as darkness falls using stealth and the darkness of the night; clubbing guards on the head to assure your success (another guard has to wake them up at that point). When trying to escape from prison, walking slowly and cautiously helps you see better, if you run, you peripheral vision decreases (the camera zooms in so you cannot see around you as well). You will also have to sneak into town when visiting another individual
  • Distract the guards by throwing pebbles or making bird noises as you sneak along the town’s streets
  • If captured, you stay in prison for more months (or even years) and as your character ages, his reflexes decrease and hand-to-hand fencing becomes more difficult, eventually, it will become more and more risky to have fights as you will be more likely to loose. This forces you (in most cases) to retire from a pirate’s life
  • If you sail by a town which is against you, you will be in danger of being attacked. The towns will also be in danger because it is possible for you to fire upon them as well. A good tip to keep in mind is to not plunder an already plundered town. You can also protect a town with your ship, just as you can isolate it


    The Port and the Tavern

  • Your options in a friendly port are mostly taken care of via menus
  • Sailing to a port can have benefits such as upgrading your ship with copper plating to turn faster, cotton sails to make it go faster and possibly get through storms in a safer way; sell your booty, trade with merchants, listen for rumors in the tavern, or get new missions from the governor. You can also upgrade your weaponry. Some of this depends on which year you choose to start in
  • You can visit the shipyard where you can repair, upgrade or sell your ships. Shipwrights also offer you the chance to buy new ships, only if you do not already have a warship in your fleet
  • Ports are with their own allegiances
  • The tavern gives you the chance to get the news that there might be a treasure fleet nearby or that a rival pirate is calling you out
  • Get tips and partial [treasure] maps from strangers or merchants in taverns (at some point, a mysterious stranger may even tell you about a long-lost relative and a person you have to talk to in order to get even more information about your lost relatives; to read more about long-lost relatives, see “Navel Battles - Can You Survive?”). Sail around to other ports to increase your chance of getting more tips and make the quest for gold a success, if, of course, you choose to pursue it
  • Check your rank in the tavern, although the actual Top 10 Pirates is on a different screen. Climb up the rank in terms of gold stolen, pirates defeated, and even the beauty of your wife, if you have one
  • At the tavern you can also talk with the tavern keeper to learn of new devices that can be installed on your ship or talk with the tavern waitress to find out about the activities of nearby pirates. The tavern is also the only place where you can get new crew members
  • Search for the treasure in the many caves. When and if you discover hidden treasure, it may be another pirate’s, therefore making him or them your enemy
  • You can also trade with the local merchant. Buy cannon, sugar, spices, luxuries, and many other goods. When in the tavern, you can also buy swords or dancing shoes and even Ruby Rings to bring back and impress the governor’s daughter. See “Dancing With Politics” to read about the governor’s daughters
  • Collect items (swords, spyglasses, armor, hats, coats, etc.) that improve skills or provide other new benefits and view them in a new inventory system


    Dancing With Politics

  • A trip to the governor's mansion lets you talk with the man himself. This is a critical part of the game since you will begin to develop a reputation with each of the Caribbean's four colonial powers
  • Increase your rank by listening to the governor (remember, you don’t have to, you can do whatever you wish). If he likes what you have done in the past, then he lets you meet his daughter
  • Your reputation with the governor will also lead you to having discounts at friendly ports, promotions, estate grants
  • After a couple of (assumingly) successful battles the governor will appreciate you even more, so he might even give you a rank (like captain or commander)
  • You can dance with the governor’s daughter, if you are successful (if she likes how you dance based on the instructions she gives you), she may even marry you and provide further details about enemy status, or other details that might concern you. If you do well and impress the governor’s daughter, her angry fiancée might come in and challenge you to a duel
  • The governor’s daughter instructs you when and where to move (this determines your success, if you are precise)
  • Dancing starts off with a simple left or right movement on the first beat of every measure. As the dance continues you'll have to throw in some diagonal or front and back moves and hit them more frequently
  • Dancing, and your moves are mouse controlled. This makes it a lot easier to adapt new tactics instead of using a keyboard
  • More attractive daughters hand out better rewards but also present tougher dancing challenges. Having a more beautiful wife does indeed provide you with a lot more benefits than a plain one, for example
  • It may be possible to put in your own music in dancing sequences via the “Custom” folder
  • The governor’s daughter may entrust you with a balanced sword or a leather vest which are aids to dueling. Or you may get a fiddle that serves as a morale booster. The weather glass will give you better sailing through storms, while the telescope gives you a wider field of vision at sea. Lockpicking kits make prison breaks easier
  • Technically, you can have governor’s daughters all over the Caribbean in different cities. This is very helpful when searching for Lost Cities as different daughters may provide the pieces of the whole map
  • If you marry the governor’s daughter, this only makes the relations between you and the nation stronger. It is possible for her to give you information about the world around you
  • The governor can provide you with a letter of marque which is a legal permission to attack and loot the ships and towns of enemy nations. (You don’t have to follow his order if you find that you have an advantage of not doing what he tells you or you just want to pursue a different part of the game). He can even ask you to hunt down and assassinate another individual, or rescue his daughter from kidnapping (which heightens your rank with his government), or even capture some traitors
  • You might even have the mission to escort a new governor who is on another ship to his post. If another ship comes in to attack, you might protect it, leave, or let the two battle and then capture the enemy ship, if he has not lost
  • Getting deeper in the game, you can get into the political subtleties. You may be given a mission by the governor to deliver an offer of peace to an enemy nation. If you decide that you can benefit from the war, you can simply “delay” or not deliver it at all. Or another case can be that you can sink a ship which has the mission to deliver a peace treaty, if you sink it, no peace treaty is delivered and therefore no war is ended


    Tips and Tricks

  • Always start ship battles so that the wind is blowing against the enemy ship. This makes it easier for you to get to the enemy, and faster, also before they escape
  • When you have 40 guns (for example) if you fire round shot (3), you may immediately switch to chain shot (7) even before all the guns are done firing. This means that with one burst of cannons, you can get in more types of ammo
  • Operating at trade sites (south parts of the map) will help you. There, you get a lot of trade ships which have this “chain” (as I like to call it) to the north cities. Intercepting this will lead to lots of gold and other goods which could be spent at different parts that are more beneficial to you
  • Keep plundering. This is the easiest way to ensure your crew stays as happy as possible for the longest time. Morale boosters also help a lot.
  • Before you divide the plunder, sell all cargo, but do not repair your ships! This is because if you do, you just waste money because after the division, your ship is automatically repaired
  • When your crew gets unhappy (eventually) divide the plunder. Do not be afraid to do this. However, you should divide as rarely as possible and only when you have to. This is because if you divide constantly, you age much more quickly. Also, it is a good idea to divide before your crew takes control of you, but after the number of men has decreased (this decreased when they abandon you, and also when they fight)
  • When you divide plunder, keep in mind that you only keep your flagship. Always have your favorite ship as a flagship when you divide plunder because if you do not do this, you might lose a valuable ship
  • Explore all cities -- small and large. This will give you a variety of information, as well as different items.
  • Be smart about this pirate business. Never underestimate the money the cargo in the other ship is worth. And also, try to trade as much as possible. Doing this efficiently can increase your gold by a lot, therefore, allowing you to buy more items, etc
  • Damage costs you serious money, hard earned money. Always avoid rocks, and storms. However, do not underestimate the value of storms, as they can boost your ship’s speed.
  • When you are dueling, fool the enemy. Tap one key (chop, for example), wait for the enemy to react, then do a thrust and get him back. Also, taunt when you get the chance (6). This decreases his ability to fight you. Also, practice is very important. Occasionally, when you enter a tavern, there is this “Annoying Captain” that is near the barmaid. Don’t hesitate. Fight him. Play around. See how many moves you can pull. Losing does not really affect your success in the game. I think that’s the reason why that guy is included at all, to practice with
  • I don’t know about other people, but sneaking through town is plain fun. In a game where you have to be quick (dueling), this reaches you to take your time and be patient. When you have to, jump in haystacks. Knock the guards down, and be quick, but sneaky
  • In land battles, do not hurry and start as soon as you get there, but change your starting point if you have to (there’s an option for this at the time you start). Also, if you have to fight, do so, but always try to fool the enemy and try to enter the city from around them (send forces to right, send a division of your troops to the left, where the town’s entrance is)
  • Health is most important to you (health=time you play=gold you earn=rank=happy fan) . Getting special items like herbs is often more valuable than that ruby ring, in the long run, of course.
  • Finally, get involved in the game. You do not get rewarded for sticking around and “hanging out.” Sure you can do only one thing that leads to success (trading for example), but I recommend you get involved with the entire game and every aspect of it.


    Miscellaneous Information

  • I recommend that you at least skim over this information again as I’ve included more information and rearranged some facts from the last time I updated this.
  • As the game has now been released, all I did was clean up most of the inaccurate information. Another new thing you’ll see is a few hints and tricks I added, which might be useful. If I find some more inaccurate information, I’ll update it.
  • Also note that some of this information has been taken and/or quoted straight from previews and other sources.
  • * Note that having these specifications are only minimum -- gameplay will always be improved if you have higher system specs.
  • Total number of facts: 143.


Items with a in front of them, are recently added or have been updated since the last posting of the FAQ.

This FAQ is put together and maintained by Civrules.

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