Reviews of Worlds Apart

Reprinted from Audyssey magazine:

Reprinted from SPAG:

From and/or

David Lant

Worlds Apart
Game by Suzanne Britton.
Reviewed by David Lant
Available as freeware from
Fully accessible without sighted assistance.

A mark of the impact of a game, or a book or film come to that, is the immediate urge to tell others about it. I have literally, just this minute finished playing Worlds Apart, by Suzanne Britton. It is a piece of true interactive fiction, written using TADS. And after that introduction, I can only say that none of this serves to convey the smallest part of the wonder and joy of the prose.

As in many works of this kind, you play the part of a character who has, for the moment, lost their recollection of who they are and what is occurring. But the one thing that lifts this story above all the others, is its extraordinarily captivating narrative, and the reality which becomes inescapable, even when you discover how much is indeed unreal. Excellent scenes, beautiful characterisation, and a subtle and seamlessly woven story, all bring an entire fantasy world into your mind, just as happens to the participants in the tale.

I will not go into detail as to what events take place, as the whole reason for the story is to experience and discover. One feature of the work, which endeared itself to me, was its lack of mere delaying tactics. Some games place puzzles and obstacles in your way, almost as if for something to do, rather than in furtherance of the story. In Worlds Apart, however, each problem, each new revelation, leads you on a step-by-step journey to recover yourself, and complete a promise. No slaying of monsters, in the traditional sense. There are adversaries to defeat, but you rarely need to resort to weaponry, and sometimes, your aim is to heal, not destroy.

There is much diversion to be found. I know of a couple of optional events that I have not yet explored, but those that I have, are pure enchantment, having no function in resolving the plot, but deepening your involvement in the world around you. This freedom to venture in your own directions gives a sense of life that is sadly lacking in many other games. Indeed, there are points here, where you are free to choose the course of events, without fear of "losing" or not following the intended path.

There is no scoring whatsoever in this work. Given the nature of it, there would be no sense in such detraction from the illusion. If you feel the need to discover whether you are progressing in any significant way, you can either check the status line, which changes to different times of day as certain scenes are completed, or you can consult the hints. The hints that are available are dynamic, in that you only see hints for events that you have encountered. It is possible to just follow the story by going through the hints, without attempting to resolve the situations yourself. Although you may feel a sense of cheating or non-achievement by doing this, you will not lose the excellence of the prose or the satisfaction of its ending. In this way, you could treat this just like a book, progressing passively into the story. However, I strongly recommend getting completely immersed in the character, as the delight and excitement will be more fulfilling.

I feel I ought to make this somewhat longer, in order to do Worlds Apart justice. Yet I can only think of more superlatives, which starts to get a bit repetitive after a while. I could describe things in the story, but there's no way I'd do it as well as the author. So all I can say is, go and get it! There is a sequel planned, and for my own part, I can hardly wait!

Michael Feir

This science fiction epic is so new that it hasn't received any formal attention from SPAG or XYZZYnews yet. It has, however, sparked a copious amount of favorable newsgroup response. The author puts you on an alien world with no idea who or what you are. Over the course of the game, you must discover your identity and purpose. Along the way, you'll discover an incredibly rich and detailed game environment. Suzanne Britton's premiere work of interactive fiction is anything but conventional by her own admission. It is, she states, prose-heavy and environment-oriented rather than puzzle-oriented. The player is provided with superb on-line help and instructions, so the game should be suitable for all players who don't mind reading a lot. All players should be certain to review the notes and "about" section in the game by entering the quoted words at the command prompt within the game. I have merely scratched the surface of this masterpiece, but am already hopelessly hooked. Due largely to the author's timely second release and an excellent group of testers, I feel safe in including this late arrival on the scene in the collection. It is certain to become a classic, and has already garnered a lot of praise from its players on the newsgroup.

Duncan Stevens

TITLE: Worlds Apart
AUTHOR: Suzanne Britton
DATE: 1999
PARSER: TADS standard
SUPPORTS: TADS interpreters
VERSION: Release 2

A variety of adjectives could well be applied to Suzanne Britton's Worlds Apart, but the main one that comes to mind is "rich." Rich in story, rich in characterization, rich in description, and generally rich in details of every kind--there's nothing thin or underdone about Worlds Apart. Whether any given player enjoys the story depends on the player, of course, perhaps even more so than in most IF: the plot depends on abstractions to an unusual extent, and keeping up with it requires a certain openness to unusual ways of information processing. Still, this is one story that rewards persistence on the player's part, and those who don't make the effort are missing something special.

What's going on is--well, figuring out what's going on is one of the game's few real puzzles, so it won't be revealed here, but suffice it to say that almost no information is given to you initially. The process of discovering who and where you are and what you're doing there is rather deliberate; there's a lot of information to glean over the course of the story, but very little of it is available initially, which makes the game somewhat less immediately accessible than it might be. Contributing to this problem is the world you inhabit, which may fairly be described as alien; there are plenty of unfamiliar names and terms scattered here and there, and while they all eventually either get explained or become obvious, a player could be forgiven for finding the learning curve a bit steep at first.

There's an upside to all the strangeness, however, that comes as the story develops: the player's imagination is freed to an extent it might not be if all the quantities were initially known. The flora and fauna you discover, for example, are given primary characteristics, but mostly the details are left for the player's mind to fill in. Dan Schmidt's "For a Change" did something similar (though to a much greater extent, of course, since the level of abstraction there was much higher), and in many ways it's a liberating experience to be encouraged to fill in relevant sensory details for yourself. Paralleling this are the verbs that you use to interact with other characters and with the environment, verbs which either aren't standard-IF at all or are used in highly unusual ways; the player is forced to put together his or her own images of how those verbs work.

The plot, for its own part, has its own logic, which, like everything else, may not be initially apparent; themes that seem quite sensible after they're encountered a few times may simply be baffling the first time or two they appear. There's an adaptive hint system that fills in most of the gaps (though not all), and while Worlds Apart is far from puzzle-oriented, it's likely that most players will end up using the hints at least once or twice. It's not so much that the puzzles are hard as that they require being on the author's wavelength. One that initially stumped me involved applying recently learned knowledge, and while I recognized immediately what to do, I didn't manage to supply the proper verb for quite a while. (It wasn't a verb that I, or anyone else, had ever encountered before, and while the game gave me an obvious clue, I tried to convey the action through more conventional verbs.) This isn't, I hasten to add, a bad thing. The world of Worlds Apart is all the more immersive for its strangeness. But it's not impossible that some might find it frustrating.

One of the greatest strengths of Worlds Apart is its cast of characters. True, you don't interact with them in especially complex ways; many of the interactions amount to cut-scenes, and much of the rest of it is ASK/TELL--but these are impressively complex characters. There isn't a thoroughgoing hero or villain among them; all have their faults and virtues, and while some are more likeable than others, none are there merely to be loved or loathed. Better still, their various personalities aren't merely identifying features ("here comes X, and he's going to display his character trait so that we don't confuse him with Y")--the plot depends on those personalities, and understanding the characters mean understanding why the plot unfolds the way it does. They also have some fairly complex relationships with each other, and much of what you learn about them you pick up secondhand, adding to the complexity. Better still, there's one character whose motivations and true nature are almost entirely open to interpretation (or so it seemed to me), and how the player chooses to perceive that character's actions may, or may not, shape how he or she views the rest of the story. There's no special technical wizardry that I could discern behind the character development--just good writing and lots and lots of ASK/TELL topics--but they come alive, arguably more so than in any work of IF in memory. And if some remain a bit opaque at the end of the story, well, it adds to the aura of mystery.

The writing is uniformly excellent: it's full of details, as noted, but generally the descriptions aren't so long that they become ponderous. Typical of this economical approach is this passage:

You have come to a secluded glade, half-sheltered from the elements by the many trees extending their branches out over the clearing. One of these in particular catches your eye, a gentle giant of a ch'nuka whose boughs stretch wide in every direction. Once, it might have shaded this place on its own, but now it shows signs of failing health--some of the branches are almost bare, and decaying leaves surround the trunk in piles and litter the clearing, although it feels like summer, and the other vegetation here is thriving.

All the details necessary to set the scene are here--tree, leaves, vegetation--but the author also manages to convey the feel of the setting, and the tree that dominates the glade also dominates your impression of the place. The decay of the ch'nuka is more important than the continued vitality of the surrounding vegetation, and so it dominates the description; had the author chosen to give the other vegetation more attention, the extent to which this particular tree affects your perception of the scene would be lost. Moreover, the contrast between the dying tree and the thriving vegetation wouldn't work as well if it were explicitly pointed out; leaving the reader to draw the contrast and wonder about it works much better. Here, and elsewhere, the author eschews a camcorder approach for a more subjective, intuitive account--the aspect of the scene that draws your attention not only is described in more detail, but also colors your overall view of the setting. The author's writing skills are particularly apparent late in the game, when there's a Wishbringeresque transformation of your surroundings; not only are the changed features of the landscape vividly rendered, but every scene is emotionally charged in ways similar to the above.

Worlds Apart is not a flawless effort (as opposed, of course, to all those flawless works of IF out there). There are some questionable game design choices--at one point, for instance, you happen across a book with a great deal of information that becomes pertinent to a certain task, or series of tasks. Unfortunately, you can't take the book with you when you're carrying out the tasks (logically, given the nature of the assignment), and you may end up having to retrace your steps to consult the book that you couldn't take with you. The worldbuilding that the inclusion of the book accomplishes is outstanding--thorough and plausible--but the frustration aspect threatens to yank the player out of an otherwise immersive scene. The progress of the story sometimes depends too much on wandering around and eventually noticing that something has changed in an unforeseeable way, and while that encourages frequent re-exploration, it may prove frustrating to the player who wants the story to keep moving. The hint system fills in the gaps most of the time, but there are a few gaps. And the end is a bit abrupt; there's a reference to a possible sequel, but it's disappointing to leave the game's world with so much unresolved.

There is much to like about Worlds Apart, in the end--in quantity and quality, the detail that went into the worldbuilding is unmatched in any work of IF in recent memory, and it's unlikely that any player will catch all, or even most, of the story on the first try. If it's a little inaccessible at first, that comes with the territory--i.e., introducing the player into a highly complex and well-developed world--and it's hardly a fatal flaw. In its interactivity and in the quality of its storytelling, Worlds Apart is a remarkable accomplishment.

Sam Barlow

Subject: [IF Review Conspiracy: Suzanne Britton's WORLD'S APART]
From: Sam Barlow

**Interactive Fiction Review Conspiracy**
Review of Suzanne Britton's WORLDS APART
by Sam Barlow.

At the end of the last Millenium (not officially, but according to TV), in the month of December, I played World's Apart (it was the first weekend that it was released) over a period of two days. Then, having been immersed its world, I emerged from the conclusion as if leaving a cinema after a forty hour film-- disorientated, pupils large, hungry--and quickly wrote a review praising the game to the highest heavens and making a fair few astute critical observations.

Then along came this thing called the "IF Review Conspiracy". They needed reviewers, so I put myself down for the cause. I held my review of World's Apart back, expecting the author, in turn, to put the game forward. And she did. Then I read the reviewing guidelines for the 'Conspiracy. They said _no_ spoilers. Bear in mind that my review was rife with spoilers. So I prepared to rewrite the review. And, just as I was preparing, I got my work visa through and had to relocate my life from the UK to the US, start a new job and suffer acute culture shock (harder than the simple transposition of a K for an S makes it look). So the review was put to one side.

(a few months later...)

OK, I have a house, a job, a car, a social security number, a driving license, bank account, etc, etc. But the review hasn't been re-written.

And now I can't wait any longer. I've got to do do the review--I owe it to the Conspiracy, to the author of World's Apart and to myself.

It seems obvious that it makes more sense to write the review from scratch rather than try and rehash the original by removing all the spoilers (which basically amounted to referring to scenes from the game and saying "didn't she do that well?")

So I get out my old copy of World's Apart and dust off the cover (actually it's not my old copy of World's Apart, it's the *new* 2.0 version). Slowly I realise why I've taken so long to get back to the review... this is a game which took my weekend and ate it whole and right now (with the American Work Ethic) I don't have too many spare weekends to give up as game food. You see, I do not remember playing World's Apart. I remember exploring World's Apart. The way I don't remember reading some great books. That immersion you get from a good book--


Because World's Apart set the puzzles at the right level to allow the reader to keep reading. No jarring full stops. If I think of a work of similar size--So Far, say--I spent several months in the first area (the one with the animals and the people running into houses). Whilst So Far [1] did a very, very good job of maintaining the illusion during these months and whilst I only got really irritated towards the end (NB: It wasn't that I couldn't solve the puzzles, but that I _thought_ I couldn't solve the puzzles... of course if I'd sat there another five years I'd still _think_ I couldn't) it wasn't the same. I managed to play through World's Apart in a weekend, without being jarred. And whilst the involvement was swift, it was also deep.

Not that there weren't puzzles, per say. There were. But they were immaculately keyed and suggested. There were puzzles requiring leaps of logic, leaps of syntax--but leaps with the author's hand in ours. The puzzles were ways of discussing the ideas with the player and having them confirmed--like a gentle lecture course; the author and player study together--the puzzles are a way of checking the reader has been keeping up.

World's Apart plays to the tried and tested IF Amnesia model, and does it damn well. Revelations are never forced and never over-emphasised (cf: Delusions and to some extent Babel). There is no artificial structure for revelation (cf: Delusions) or out of sync PC/player knowledge (cf: Babel). There is no hunger daemon (cf: Amnesia).

The story itself really pleased me. I'm not a big fantasy reader. The last thing I read in this genre was back in my early teens when I read some Stephen Donaldson books. So I can't say if the ideas in World's Apart are _original_, genre wise. I can say that there are some interesting twists of sorts and cute ideas floating around. Some nice visual metaphors too (I can only read fantasy as metaphor, I don't know if that's the _right_ thing to do). The only problem I had was with the PC's nievity and lack of sexuality (esp. in the third quarter).

The story is revealed through cleverly meshed flashbacks and the game is full of interlinked themes and symbols that add dimension to the experience. The most satisfying of the game's puzzles are meta-puzzles, requiring the player to think outside the game whilst moving through the game--not in the sense of relating acts to an external system (the meta puzzle of 'what does it mean?') but in the sense that there is often little way of providing feedback on some of these puzzles--you either get it or don't--so the 'working out' of the puzzles goes on externally.

What you get for your money (in the sense that time is money) is a richly textured game world and a cleverly layered and unfolding story. World's Apart is a really solid example of how to use traditional IF means, within a traditional Infocom sized game but with well thought-out puzzles that are so incorporated into the story that they cease to be puzzles and are more correctly 'confirmation between author and player of a shared experience.' Note, when I say 'Infocom sized game' I mean by "size", the amount of work required of the player--there is far more detail here than in an Infocom game and there's certainly more story; whilst most Infocom games were either simple stories in the now, exploration of the remains of stories past or puzzle-strings led by story bookends, World's Apart has a lot of genuine *story* to get your teeth into.

So, to finish: If you're reading this because you haven't played World's Apart yet, stop wasting time and do so. If you have, good wasn't it? If you're Suzanne, stop reading this and go write the IF sequel. Please.

[1] Note: I think So Far is a bloody brilliant piece of IF. I did however seek assistance a LOT.

Emily Short

From: Emily Short
Subject: [REVIEW] Worlds Apart
Date: Mon, 13 Dec 1999

"Worlds Apart" is perhaps the first real work of science fiction I've ever seen in I-F.

There are plenty of games set on space ships or in other futuristic settings, but for the most part they rely on well-established fixtures of the genre. The player may never have seen a teleporter in real life, but she certainly knows what it does. "Worlds Apart," by contrast, takes place in a setting familiar to the protagonist, but genuinely alien to the player.

This makes it a great deal of work to play. Most of my mental energy went into trying to understand what was going on on a factual level. The puzzles, such as they are, are part of this exploration: the majority of them involve trying to understand how to interact meaningfully with the world, given that real life experience offers few guides. Sometimes this can be mildly frustrating, and there were one or two points where I felt as though I was playing read-the-author's-mind. On the other hand, a majority of the solutions are gently or not-gently clued, and there is, in addition, an elegant adaptive hint system. (I relied on said system more than I should have, perhaps. The spirit was willing but the flesh was weak. In any case, I was more interested in making forward progress in the story than I was in banging my head against obstacles -- it's that sort of game. In fact I think one could argue that, after the first few scenes, this is a work of puzzle-less I-F that just happens to have a larger verb set than normal.)

There are a fair number of points where the player can do nothing except acquire information -- by asking questions, by typing 'z' repeatedly while another character speaks, or by reading literally pages of background-supplying text. To give credit where it is due, some of this background is quite intriguing. On the other hand, the sense of interactivity, at these junctures, is limited.

It's an open question how many people will like the world thus projected. I was initially put off by it. Location descriptions are longer than I prefer, and, especially in the opening scenes, too deliberately pretty. The game quotes Enya and Loreena McKennitt at key transitions. This is indicative. In places the plot feels random, chaotic, undisciplined, more like a dream than a story. Those who seek formally structured I-F like "Jigsaw" or spare, focused work such as "Spider and Web" may find it unsatisfying. Early on, I considered abandoning the game for aesthetic reasons (there is also some irritating mispunctuation, and occasionally the author has recourse to that evil cliche of science fiction languages, the Random Apostrophe). As it is, I'm glad I didn't. In spite of -- or perhaps because of -- its dramatic and unrestrained imagery, it recalled the fluid story-games my childhood best friend and I used to act out: rambling and subject to frequent modification, but curiously memorable.

Ultimately, my greatest complaint is that the story ended too soon. There was much that I didn't yet understand, and assumed I would get a chance to discover. I understand that the author intends there to be a sequel of some sort -- either I-F or "static fiction". I certainly hope that this makes an appearance, because I felt as though the story ended before the protagonist had a chance to resolve all the issues raised.

All of this aside, "Worlds Apart" is a tremendously ambitious work, in that it attempts to deal not only with a physical environment but also with social realities, family history, and even spiritual state. It is scrupulously implemented. I ran into nothing I would qualify as a game-play bug, and there is a very large set of examinable scenery objects and of conversation topics. Though I think the story has some flaws, I hope it receives a wide audience. Considerable craft went into its creation; it is markedly different from anything else currently available; and it provides useful data for the discussion of character background and world-building in interactive fiction.

Aris Katsaris

From: Aris Katsaris
Subject: [REVIEW] Worlds Apart *Spoilers*
Date: Wed, 19 Jan 2000

[Two Warnings. First: This is my first full review of an IF work. Secondly: *major* SPOILERS below for every part of the game from beginning to end...]

In a Nutshell: An excellent piece of Interactive Fiction, set in an incredibly (if not impossibly) detailed universe.

Getting started

I admit I didn't have the best first impression: A PC who wakes up without memory. Ho hum - nothing that hasn't been done before. An opening sequence which seemed similar to that of Winchester's Nightmare (a game I very quickly lost interest in) made me not expect much.

I was wrong. The game's strong point isn't its originality (though there are a couple points of true originality indeed) or lack thereof but the amazingly three-dimensional universe, society and characters that it contains. On to specifics.


The characterisation of everyone is excellent: no two-dimensional characters here - I don't think I would call this level of characterisation unprecedented for a IF work, but it's certainly quite rare. Every character has a history and personality of their own: and it can also be seen slightly changing as the story (and the flashbacks) progress. Yuri turns from a carefree jester, to a concerned father, to a man fearful of the choice that he will have to face, to someone devastated by guilt. Kitara becomes more and more withdrawn. Lashiaran more and more strict.

And none of them is really without flaws or virtues. Even Lashiaran has a point of view which is not absolutely non-understandable, more like a man whose pride has been injured, than a completely villainous individual (though certainly his actions bring much evil).

Yet, the character I most liked was the one I saw least of. Echo/Lyric is a fascinating character.

What's unprecedented in this game is the extent and depth of the dialogue - you can ask every character about everything and everyone: their responses will be reasonable, often illuminating, quite often opening up new topics of dialogue.

And sometimes it's just unexpected (and rather lovely): I didn't expect an answer to questions as generic as LIFE for example, or (to Saal) about LOVE, FEAR, HATRED, etc... And yet everything's there.

And every response will be different in every different scene...Saal is the most talkative of them all obviously. Try and discover things about the entire universe (and beyond) from him... Again the depth of the discussion is amazing; topics opening new topics and so on and so on... I've played the game two times from beginning to end: the first time I completely missed learning about Takeena. The second time I somehow failed to rediscover the action which had led me to see a tidbit of the relationship of Saal with his father (anyone help?). And I'm sure I've still not discovered everything that's there to know... Lovely.

Universe, Nature of

Through one of the early scenes you'll rediscover your mental talents of sensing, entering, and becoming, which from then on will be crucial for every bit of your progress afterwards.

These mental powers (alongside others you don't possess like imbuing and illusion-weaving) are the main characteristics of the world (or perhaps its major difference from ours). Originally I had thought it to be a fantasy world, and to some extent it is: but some later flashbacks took a more science-fiction turn, with different worlds, spaceships, and technology gaining prominent mention. In the northern sequence, especially, science is quite important.

Another important thing is that neither the protagonist nor most individuals are what we'd call human, even though they name themselves such. I've wondered quite a bit on that and it was rather confusing initially. Was this an intentional discrepancy, meant to make the players insiders of the world, rather than aliens to it? (The same way than in SF we hear the aliens speak English, rather than what would be their own tongue.) I can't find a different explanation.

Universe, Structure of

You have the relationships between the individuals...Not all such connections are obvious initially (especially in the case of Saal). That's a mini-structure of its own, of course, and in most IF settings it's the only "structure" important to the game.

But in this work, above (and a bit more distant than) the first layer we have society's structure, with the noblemen, houses, hasidja, queen, and inside the same planet, the differences between the South and North...

And above that structure there's the relationships between the planets - little explained here but still important... The race of the Mantians who killed two of your three "fathers", the Exorians (conquerors? protectors? both?) and their Emperor...

And above that structure, there's the one of the Fathers, Elders (Nariath and Enyeri), the "normal" races...

I've not seen any game set in a world more detailed (or seemingly detailed) than this one.

Playing specifics/Puzzles/Presentation

A couple puzzles were rather of the guess-the-verb variety (the shylf-in-a-cage puzzle for example) but since hints are provided I won't complain much. Most puzzles were quite reasonable and often rather beautiful in their way -- I suggest that no one use the hints except as a last resort. Do use the locket though -- even if you didn't need it to solve the puzzle, UNDO a move and check it out. It's an interesting part of the world, and usually its assistance is both helpful and subtle (I especially like the help it gave me in Lia's dreamworld, with the starving shylf).

I think this game once again shows how scoring has become a very obsolete form of "reward". Progress here is once again its own reward. We've seen that in other storyline-oriented IF works, but here there's something extra: When I helped someone in the game, I felt good; when I saved the pakal, when I played with the freed shylf, when I sensed Lia's vibrant joy...that was its own reward also. I think I'm going soft, or became too immersed in the gameworld -- I almost didn't have the heart to go back and check out what would happen if I replied "no" to Yuri.


If there's a weakness to the story, it's the plotting: like other similar games it's focused on the flashbacks and the psychological war that's taking place inside your mind. The connecting story with you wandering around trying to remember is rather weak (rather non-existent). That only changes in the last day when you have to travel elsewhere, and the scenery changes -- a welcome change in pace.

But there's a connecting theme: and that's healing. Even as you heal your own self, you remember how in previous times you healed others (and also help heal others in the "present" time). And most specifically the theme seems to be "breaking out of cages," which ranges from the literal (shylf puzzle), all the way to the psychological, social, even metaphysical.

Another weakness (if you choose to see it that way) is the story's irresolution. As Suzanne said it's only the first half of a larger story -- as such much hinting and teasing take place concerning a conclusion to the story that we don't see...

Various thoughts

There's quite a bit of (nice) ambiguity in some scenes, especially how much the flashbacks are a memory and how much reoccurs, how much in control you are...There are places where it almost seemed as if time-travel was taking place, for example when the child-you sees an image of the adult-you inside the locket...does Lyesh's mind actually travel back in time, something which the earlier you could almost feel? Or is just a funny way of remembering?

Nice way of representing telepathy with bold for others' thoughts, italics for your own...There are also a couple places where the text is bold italic when something is simultaneously thought by both you and another. Now will anyone go all the way and represent tangled thoughts in the way that "The Demolished Man" did? :-)

Was the "unseen hand" an Enyeri? I couldn't find a way to ask this of Saal which was one of the few places where I found a problem with the conversation system...

Final thoughts

This game has entered my top-ten list of all time favourites. Surreal but without the surrealism getting annoyingly out of control (such as I felt happened in "Losing Your Grip"). I wonder about how it will do in the Xyzzy awards...I think there are some awards it deserves to get, but with some it will be a close fight with other games...We'll see...

As for me I'm eagerly waiting for the sequel.

On the whole, great job, Suzanne! Keep them coming. :-)

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