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Jeff's 9 Things to Honor 9/9/99

It's the Dreamcast's ninth birthday. Where were you when they pulled the plug? I was...well...maybe you'd better just read this for yourself.

In the grand scheme of things, nine years isn't really that long of a time. But in most ways, Sega's Dreamcast feels like ancient history. Instead of doing some sort of top nine favorites or top nine best-sellers or whatever, I wanted to dig a bit more into my memory and think about the Dreamcast stuff that still stands out today.

1. The Launch


My roommate won a Michael Buffer soundalike contest and got a free DC thanks to this game.
Console launches are always very hectic and crazy to cover in this line of work, but the Dreamcast launch will stand out as one of the craziest. Not because it was hard to get the console or the games or anything. Instead, I flew out to New York on very last-minute notice to appear on Good Morning America. They already had a Sega representative for the segment, but they wanted, like, an independent voice to appear, as well. I think my independent voice said like three or four things. In order to keep things extra-classy, I wore a Fubu jersey and a pair of shorts on the show. Diane Sawyer touched my bare leg at one point, which was obviously way hot. Also of note is that the copy of Ready 2 Rumble Boxing that was being shown exhibited the awesome sound bug that plagued a handful of early DC releases on live television. Whoops!

2. 

Phantasy Star Online


PSO was, to me, the Dreamcast's crowning achievement. I probably sunk 200 hours into that game, just grinding through the same four worlds again and again and again with a handful of friends. It was the game that made the Broadband Adapter and keyboard worth owning. It was also the game that made the Dreamcast Game Shark worth owning. Hey, want some hot four-slot armor and a spread needle? Hey, want to crash some lobby servers? The Game Shark's got your back!

Once Sega decided to start charging for PSO in Episode II, the magic was gone. What a bummer.

3. Sega's Development Divisions


Chu!
Sega went and created a bunch of really memorable wholly owned studios around this era. It was interesting, because you really got the impression that many of these studios were operating with more independence that you might expect. You had Overworks with Skies of Arcadia, Smilebit with Jet Set Radio, Sonic Team with PSO and Sonic, United Game Artists with Space Channel 5 and Rez, Sega Rosso with Cosmic Smash, Hitmaker with Crazy Taxi, and, of course, AM2 with Shenmue and Virtua Fighter 3tb. It was neat to watch such a diverse lineup of games coming out of such a colorful group of studios, even if I didn't always like the games once they were finally released.

4. Shenmue


You know what? I don't like Shenmue at all. But it's certainly one of the most memorable things that happened to the Dreamcast. Yu Suzuki and AM2 went absolutely nuts with ambition. I was able to recognize that, but the execution felt like a mess to me. Not to beat a dead horse, but that game's probably something like a 6.8.

5. The Crazy Hardware That Never Came Out


Prototype Dreamcast Zip Drive.
I believe the first Tokyo Game Show I ever attended ended up being one of Sega's last as a hardware manufacturer. I remember walking into the exhibit hall and seeing Sega's huge booth. Right up front, under glass, were some upcoming peripherals: a VMU that allowed for MP3 playback. The VMU was the memory unit for the Dreamcast, in case you don't remember. It was removable and had a little screen for playing incredibly dumb games. It might have made for a neat portable MP3 player, especially in 2000, which is when it was unveiled.

The other weird DC peripheral was the DC Zip Drive. Remember the Zip Drive? Iomega's custom rewritable format took 100MB disks. I had one for my PC and it was actually pretty handy in its day--meaning the day when blank CDs and CD burners weren't quite commonplace. Sega's version for the DC, I think, came well after the format was done as a viable storage medium on computers. Apparently it would have been used to make the DC a bit better at storing things like e-mail and web pages. Some prototypes of this hardware made it out and occasionally pop up on eBay.

6. 

Visual Concepts


OK, if you've been reading this site for any length of time, you probably already know that I'm no sports fan. But as an observer of the game industry, it was really fascinating to watch Sega rise up and develop its own sports line. Visual Concepts turned the lack of EA's games on the Dreamcast from a weakness into a strength by developing the hell out of some sports games. The NFL 2K series was a monster--a lot of players immediately deemed it to be better than Madden.

Think about all of the things that shook out all this. EA went on to shut this series down by acquiring the exclusive rights to the NFL franchise. And Take-Two Interactive ended up picking up Sega's sports studio and then renamed an entire division of its company after those sports games. And apparently those guys still turn out the best basketball game these days. It was fascinating to watch it all unfold.

7. Imports


As Sega's domestic efforts got weirder and weirder, I found myself turning to imports pretty frequently. I ended up getting a chip soldered into my Dreamcast--this was before the whole boot disc thing came in and made booting imports (and, well, just about anything else) so easy. I have Dreamcast dance mats for playing the fairly-weak DC versions of Dance Dance Revolution. I imported the Japan-only sequel to Samba de Amigo. I imported Super Street Fighter II Turbo (for Matching Service!) and just about any other fighting game that came out in Japan first. I bought a sealed copy of Segagaga even though I couldn't (and still can't) read Japanese. This stuff served as suitable fodder for keeping the system meaningful as the US started descending into stuff like Floigan Brothers.

8. 

Soul Calibur


Ivy, from back when she used to wear clothes.
It's pretty much impossible to overstate the importance of Namco's weapon-based fighting game. It was the launch game that sold the system to you by looking like it stepped out of the future--games weren't supposed to look this good in 1999. I guess my big problem with it is that it wasn't Tekken. Still, Soul Calibur drew crowds and got people really excited about a fighting game, which was a pretty impressive feat, even back then. Me, I totally went nuts on the game's mission mode, which was really good at setting up interesting rules and different ways to play.

But still... a DC version of Tekken 3 would have been way more exciting to me.

9. The End


Much like the launch of the Dreamcast, I have pretty specific and weird memories of the day that Sega pulled the plug on the system. The word came via a conference call with Peter Moore delivering the word to the press. I believe it was late January of 2001. They kept using the term "platform-agnostic" to describe the software-only route they were about to take. There had been a few rumors kicking around in the days before the announcement that it was coming, but they were too hard to believe at the time. Listening to that conference call felt historic, even at the time.

So here's the weird part that I'll always remember about that day. I had been fighting off the flu for a bit. My stomach was... a mess. So I ended up listening to a significant portion of the call while planted firmly on the toilet in my hall bathroom, craning my neck out the door to listen to the call. They were taking questions from the media. I don't know if you've ever done this sort of conference call, but it was the sort of thing where you had to give your name as you called in, and then to ask a question you needed to push a button on your phone. I don't see how it could have been anything on my end, because I was pretty far away from my phone and most certainly didn't have a question, but at one point they said "and the next question comes from Jeff Gerstmann." I stayed silent.

It's easy to look back on the Dreamcast now and laugh at what now seem like incredibly obvious and critical tactical errors on the part of Sega. And I try not to let nostalgia sweep me up too much--there were a lot of really lame Dreamcast games. But as a moment in time, the DC's time was historical and, for me anyway, makes for a fascinating story from start to finish.
Jeff Gerstmann on Google+
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Posted by Jeff
In the grand scheme of things, nine years isn't really that long of a time. But in most ways, Sega's Dreamcast feels like ancient history. Instead of doing some sort of top nine favorites or top nine best-sellers or whatever, I wanted to dig a bit more into my memory and think about the Dreamcast stuff that still stands out today.

1. The Launch


My roommate won a Michael Buffer soundalike contest and got a free DC thanks to this game.
Console launches are always very hectic and crazy to cover in this line of work, but the Dreamcast launch will stand out as one of the craziest. Not because it was hard to get the console or the games or anything. Instead, I flew out to New York on very last-minute notice to appear on Good Morning America. They already had a Sega representative for the segment, but they wanted, like, an independent voice to appear, as well. I think my independent voice said like three or four things. In order to keep things extra-classy, I wore a Fubu jersey and a pair of shorts on the show. Diane Sawyer touched my bare leg at one point, which was obviously way hot. Also of note is that the copy of Ready 2 Rumble Boxing that was being shown exhibited the awesome sound bug that plagued a handful of early DC releases on live television. Whoops!

2. 

Phantasy Star Online


PSO was, to me, the Dreamcast's crowning achievement. I probably sunk 200 hours into that game, just grinding through the same four worlds again and again and again with a handful of friends. It was the game that made the Broadband Adapter and keyboard worth owning. It was also the game that made the Dreamcast Game Shark worth owning. Hey, want some hot four-slot armor and a spread needle? Hey, want to crash some lobby servers? The Game Shark's got your back!

Once Sega decided to start charging for PSO in Episode II, the magic was gone. What a bummer.

3. Sega's Development Divisions


Chu!
Sega went and created a bunch of really memorable wholly owned studios around this era. It was interesting, because you really got the impression that many of these studios were operating with more independence that you might expect. You had Overworks with Skies of Arcadia, Smilebit with Jet Set Radio, Sonic Team with PSO and Sonic, United Game Artists with Space Channel 5 and Rez, Sega Rosso with Cosmic Smash, Hitmaker with Crazy Taxi, and, of course, AM2 with Shenmue and Virtua Fighter 3tb. It was neat to watch such a diverse lineup of games coming out of such a colorful group of studios, even if I didn't always like the games once they were finally released.

4. Shenmue


You know what? I don't like Shenmue at all. But it's certainly one of the most memorable things that happened to the Dreamcast. Yu Suzuki and AM2 went absolutely nuts with ambition. I was able to recognize that, but the execution felt like a mess to me. Not to beat a dead horse, but that game's probably something like a 6.8.

5. The Crazy Hardware That Never Came Out


Prototype Dreamcast Zip Drive.
I believe the first Tokyo Game Show I ever attended ended up being one of Sega's last as a hardware manufacturer. I remember walking into the exhibit hall and seeing Sega's huge booth. Right up front, under glass, were some upcoming peripherals: a VMU that allowed for MP3 playback. The VMU was the memory unit for the Dreamcast, in case you don't remember. It was removable and had a little screen for playing incredibly dumb games. It might have made for a neat portable MP3 player, especially in 2000, which is when it was unveiled.

The other weird DC peripheral was the DC Zip Drive. Remember the Zip Drive? Iomega's custom rewritable format took 100MB disks. I had one for my PC and it was actually pretty handy in its day--meaning the day when blank CDs and CD burners weren't quite commonplace. Sega's version for the DC, I think, came well after the format was done as a viable storage medium on computers. Apparently it would have been used to make the DC a bit better at storing things like e-mail and web pages. Some prototypes of this hardware made it out and occasionally pop up on eBay.

6. 

Visual Concepts


OK, if you've been reading this site for any length of time, you probably already know that I'm no sports fan. But as an observer of the game industry, it was really fascinating to watch Sega rise up and develop its own sports line. Visual Concepts turned the lack of EA's games on the Dreamcast from a weakness into a strength by developing the hell out of some sports games. The NFL 2K series was a monster--a lot of players immediately deemed it to be better than Madden.

Think about all of the things that shook out all this. EA went on to shut this series down by acquiring the exclusive rights to the NFL franchise. And Take-Two Interactive ended up picking up Sega's sports studio and then renamed an entire division of its company after those sports games. And apparently those guys still turn out the best basketball game these days. It was fascinating to watch it all unfold.

7. Imports


As Sega's domestic efforts got weirder and weirder, I found myself turning to imports pretty frequently. I ended up getting a chip soldered into my Dreamcast--this was before the whole boot disc thing came in and made booting imports (and, well, just about anything else) so easy. I have Dreamcast dance mats for playing the fairly-weak DC versions of Dance Dance Revolution. I imported the Japan-only sequel to Samba de Amigo. I imported Super Street Fighter II Turbo (for Matching Service!) and just about any other fighting game that came out in Japan first. I bought a sealed copy of Segagaga even though I couldn't (and still can't) read Japanese. This stuff served as suitable fodder for keeping the system meaningful as the US started descending into stuff like Floigan Brothers.

8. 

Soul Calibur


Ivy, from back when she used to wear clothes.
It's pretty much impossible to overstate the importance of Namco's weapon-based fighting game. It was the launch game that sold the system to you by looking like it stepped out of the future--games weren't supposed to look this good in 1999. I guess my big problem with it is that it wasn't Tekken. Still, Soul Calibur drew crowds and got people really excited about a fighting game, which was a pretty impressive feat, even back then. Me, I totally went nuts on the game's mission mode, which was really good at setting up interesting rules and different ways to play.

But still... a DC version of Tekken 3 would have been way more exciting to me.

9. The End


Much like the launch of the Dreamcast, I have pretty specific and weird memories of the day that Sega pulled the plug on the system. The word came via a conference call with Peter Moore delivering the word to the press. I believe it was late January of 2001. They kept using the term "platform-agnostic" to describe the software-only route they were about to take. There had been a few rumors kicking around in the days before the announcement that it was coming, but they were too hard to believe at the time. Listening to that conference call felt historic, even at the time.

So here's the weird part that I'll always remember about that day. I had been fighting off the flu for a bit. My stomach was... a mess. So I ended up listening to a significant portion of the call while planted firmly on the toilet in my hall bathroom, craning my neck out the door to listen to the call. They were taking questions from the media. I don't know if you've ever done this sort of conference call, but it was the sort of thing where you had to give your name as you called in, and then to ask a question you needed to push a button on your phone. I don't see how it could have been anything on my end, because I was pretty far away from my phone and most certainly didn't have a question, but at one point they said "and the next question comes from Jeff Gerstmann." I stayed silent.

It's easy to look back on the Dreamcast now and laugh at what now seem like incredibly obvious and critical tactical errors on the part of Sega. And I try not to let nostalgia sweep me up too much--there were a lot of really lame Dreamcast games. But as a moment in time, the DC's time was historical and, for me anyway, makes for a fascinating story from start to finish.
Posted by JesseG

Haha, I cant believe its been that long since the Dreamcast already.

Posted by CleverLoginName

Jesus, Zip drives... I had one of those, Sega should have thrown in a LaserDisc attachment.

Posted by Thordain

Wow, it feels like it was so long ago

Posted by Driadon

"but that game's probably something like a 6.8."
BAHAHAHAHAHA
I've been thinking about looking around to picking up a Dreamcast at some point. These days they probably go for cheap at some pawnshop, and the nostalgia factor would be well worth the 20 or so dollars.

Posted by TheGTAvaccine

I never owned a Dreamcast, but I had Ready 2 Rumble boxing on PS1.

Posted by rohanspear345

i remember playing crazy taxi at toys r us everytime i went there... i never bought a dreamcast though...

Posted by Scooper

I loved the Dreamcast, there were just such wacky and great games on it.

I remember playing Jet Set Radio which was so damn stylish and it got insanely hard towards then end.
While the Sonic Adventure games weren't the same games as the first 3 they were still really interesting platformers and I can't tell you how far into I got to raising me Chou Chou, making it get little horns then going and tapping on my VC cartridge trying to find seeds for a tree. I really enjoyed playing Virtua Fighter, it was that and Soul Calibur that introduced me to fighting games, then I went back to my brothers' Street Fighter II game and practised on that so I could try and defeat them haha.

Revolt was crazy too, I spent ages making courses on that and driving around as a ridiculas shopping cart that fell over if you even thought about making a turn.
Oh and I spent a massive amount of time on Crazy Taxi doing the stunt missions..
Aah, and Dino Crisis, that game was also pretty cool.

I had the Shenmue 4 disc or whatever box, I never got past the first disc, it was great but had too many things that kept niggling at me to keep me playing.

Dreamcast - One of the best consoles ever!


Posted by mudkip9000

I really enjoyed this. I hope that you, Jeff, post lots more stories like this.

Posted by MattBodega

Sitting on the toilet is the only way to memorialize the Dreamcast a...s far as I'm concerned.
And I thought you started that rumor about Tekken on the Dreamcast, Jeff! It's your fault people got excited about a DC Tekken!
...Tekken VS DC Universe would be pretty good. I would watch Heihachi beat up Superman.

Posted by Artemis_D

I'm one of the poor souls still holding out for a third  and final Shenmue, even though I know in my heart it will never happen.

*sigh*

Posted by ddensel

I remember when I was still in grade school a few years ago, my teacher started ranting about video games to the tune of "you darned kids, with your Playstations and your Nintendos and your Segas" One of the girls in the class laughed and said "What's a Sega?"

It's sad to see the big names of yesterday fade into obscurity like Sega and Atari (the real Atari, not Infogrames). Even though the video game business is expanding by leaps and bounds, I think it's important to remember the companies and their machines that made video gaming big in the first place.

Happy 9th, Dreamcast! I think i'll start re-playing my copy of Shenmue...

Posted by HumanityPlague

I've ironically been getting into the DC a lot lately (due to buying one for 30$, and the ability to burn DC games on normal CD's, with no problem), and I still dig that system.  Sure Sonic Adventure 1, and Power Stone look goofy now, but they're still a lot of fun.  Back in the day, the Dreamcast was fairly comparable to the PS2.  The main hitch with the system is, it was an arcade in a box.  There weren't a huge amount of games that couldn't be completed in 3 sittings (if that), and the game that did take longer, felt artificially longer, not really longer.  But, it was still an enjoyable little system, and Project Justice was awesome.

Posted by MasterSplinter

<Shenmue3

I miss the Dreamcast days.

Posted by Godzilla_Sushi

Dreambombcast? Oh PLEASE!!! :)

Posted by Captain_Fookup

A nice read, one of these days I plan on picking up a dreamcast for cheap off of ebay or craigslist,

Posted by duxup

I never owned a Dreamcast but that insanely enthusiastic nostalgia that is out there on the net is mostly of what I think of when someone says Dreamcast.

Posted by mrfluke

rip dreamcast thank you for marvel vs capcom 2

now i know where the 6.8 references back at the old site came from

Posted by Claude

I had a dreamcast and at the time I thought it was pretty cool. I love sports games and it had some good ones. Toy Commander was a lot of fun. Resident Evil Code: Veronica was the best Resident Evil game I had played up until that point. Good times, yes sir, good times.

Posted by Scooper

"The main hitch with the system is, it was an arcade in a box."

DUDE IT WAS AN ARCADE MACHENE IN A DAMN BOX!

Posted by El_Dom

Man i loved the dreamcast, mainly cause when your in 6th grade the vmu is the coolest thing ever and cause of Jet Grind Radio. Jet Set Radio Future was garbage though

Posted by TheKing

RIP Dreamcast =[

You will always have a place in my heart.

Posted by Spiritof

Good crap, I HATED the Dreamcast Game Shark!

Were you ever on the receiving end of one of those crashes? I hated the random dude who would hack the game, join the party, kill the entire party, and loot everyone's dropped items. There were times where I hated that game with the heat of a thousand white-hot suns, but that still didn't stop me from investing about 250 hours into that game and quite a few sleepless nights.

Skies of Arcadia was a real winner too. DC was ahead of its time, died too soon, and was easily one of my favorite systems of ALL time. Crappy controller and all.

Posted by TrakMastaTom

Man, I loved my Dreamcast.  No, I still love it.  To this day I play it on a somewhat frequent basis.  It had so much character.  I remember doing yard work for my old man for months to save up to buy it.  I got some crazy bundle that came with NFL 2K1, NBA 2K1 and MLB 2K1.  I played the hell out of Grandia 2.  Marvel Vs. Capcom...so much time put into that game.  The Sonic Adventure games were great.

I loved that thing so much, and it's kind of weird but I find this article really touching.

Thanks, Jeff.

Posted by Apathylad

Man, I was talking about the Dreamcast sometime last week, in that I never got one and failed to play some of its games. Man, I wish there was an easy way in which to get it and all the games I wanted to play.

Posted by DavidSnakes

This is one of Jeff's best articles ever, I think.  Really, really well said.

Posted by TrakMastaTom

Oh man.  I totally forgot Powerstone 2.  I have so many memories with that game.  I can't remember anything from more than a few years ago except a few select memories, and one of them involves Powerstone 2.

Posted by Spiritof
"Not to beat a dead horse, but that game's probably something like a 6.8."

And this is totally useless to me. Could you reevaluate the 6.8 and give it back to me on a "star" scale?

Thanks.
Posted by yellownumber5

Nice recap on the DC.  That era for me I got back into PC for a bit, so I never got into the consoles of the time.  I wish I didn't pass by the Dreamcast.  Seems people have so many fond memories of the system.  Its like that beat-up cuddly teddy bear someone has in childhood.

and to note a previous post... 6.8?  There are only five stars and I thought you didn't do halves much less thenths.

Posted by Cerza

Great article Jeff! I loved my DC, still do when I pull it out to play on occasoin. I can't believe you didn't mention BLEEM though. Man, that was the best emulator ever made, and it let you play Tekken on your DC :-)

Posted by Razor

My brothers bought Dreamcast, Sonic adventure and 1 memory card the night it launched.  I still remember the fresh smell of the Dreamcast, the packaging of the game, the experience of training those damn choos? chibis? on the memory card.
Man, SEGA used to make awesome games that no one ever bought and now they make terrible games that some people buy??
Thats fuckin weird.

**I STILL LOVE MY SEGA DREAMCAST EVEN WITH ALL THOSE DAMN SEGA GT STICKERS THAT MY BROTHER PLACED ALL OVER THE LID**

Posted by MidnyteWolf

I loved the Dreamcast, it was my fav console by far!!!

Posted by RJ
Posted by Dandy

well done

Posted by Monty344

A moment of silence for the Dreamcast......

Posted by PureRok

This story got me all teary-eyed.

Posted by John

oh, I see. The DreamCast failed because Ivy did not have gigantic boobs. It all makes sence now.

Posted by Destroyeron

So what did "you" ask Jeff?

Posted by Trilogy

I went to go look up your interview on GMA.. pretty funny stuff and i must admit that jersey was very "classy". The sound bug was just embarrassing though.

Posted by jakob187

DC was one of the most kick ass consoles ever.

Posted by FCKSNAP

For me the Saturn was a better console, mostly for imports though. But yeah, I owned both a DC and a PS2, and that was enough to not need a Gamecube or an xbox.

And also, taking a shit while on a conference call sounds like the dream job for me.

Posted by HTTenrai

I think I liked it mostly for its plethora of fighting games that were, at the time, practically arcade perfect. I was a huge Street Fighter fan at the time, so I would always play the crap out of my friend's Dreamcast, but Marvel vs. Capcom 2? Ohh...I could pee myself to relive my first day with that game.

Posted by Geno

Sonic on the DC blew my mind, like I stood at the gaming station at EB for like an hour. 

Posted by Randolph

Man, the golden age of gaming.  CVS, near arcade perfect SF3 iterations, Skies of Arcadia, Jet Grind Radio, Code Veronica, Space Channel 5, and Shen Freaking Mue.  Gaming was so pure and exciting back then.

Posted by BenderUnit22

I didn't much care for the Dreamcast to be honest. I played a good number of games and had a great time with it (and still own it), but the box wasn't very well designed, especially the controllers. Slot-in rumble packs? Memory cards with displays (ok, no flaw, but why?)? Hard-plastic buttons that make your fingers hurt after a while? And then of course the biggest problem, only 1 analog stick which hurts the playability of 3D games due to often crappy automatic camera. All in all a good system, but when even Nintendo struggles to find an audience, Sega was pretty much doomed following up the 32X and the Saturn.

Posted by Lookin2GetSmoked

You forgot King of the ring.  That game was pretty lousy.

Posted by Pierce

"but at one point they said "and the next question comes from Jeff Gerstmann." I stayed silent."

I think, with this being one of those rarest of rare moments, you should've just sucked it up,  trudge out of the bathroom, get to the phone, and asked something.  What an opportunity - you can't let something like trouser salsa keep you from making history!

Posted by AttackedCamo

I miss you Dreamcast!

Posted by Valdarez

What I remember most about the Sega DreamCast is moving to Austin into a run down Apartment complex.  My single apartment wasn't ready, so they put me in a 2 bedroom that had no furniture, it was empty, bare, desolate even.  It felt like I was squatting in someone elses house, and they could come home at any second.  To further the sense of unease, the apartment was on the 3rd floor and overlooked, what else, a junkyard.  Run down cars rusted to their core with weeds 3 feet high and random tires littered the landscape. 

The first night there, it rained, and I mean it poured.  So what else to do in a strange city, in a strange apartment, with an eerie lanscape, but to put in a copy of Resident Evil:  Code Veronica and play it!

Now, I'm not much for scary games, as they usually don't scare me, any more than movies.  However, this setting, coupled with this game, proved for a really tense experience.  At times the lightening would strike at just the right time to scare the !@#$ out of me, and at other times, the rain would let down at really suspensful times.   It was an amazing experience, and to this date remains one of my most memorable gaming experiences regardless of Platform.

Posted by Vigorousjammer

ahhh, this makes me want to play my dreamcast again ^_^

It's been collecting dust on my shelf for quite some time now...
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