Salvatore Pane

Tag: Super Nintendo

Retro Video Game Finds XIII: I Found the Japanese Version of NBA Jam


During a trip back to the east coast, I had the opportunity to pick up some import games, chief among them NBA Jam for the Super Famicom. Jam is one of my all-time favorite games on any system, and I was quite eager to see if there were any differences between the English and Japanese versions. Sadly, there are not, except for the Japanese text in between the first and second quarters and the third and fourth quarters. I also picked up two Famicom games–one, a train-themed board game, and two, a horse racing simulator. If you’re curious about how I’m playing these, it’s fairly simple. If you want to play Super Famicom games on your Super NES, just get wire cutters and break off the two tabs inside the unit right above the cartridge slot. For the Famicom, I’m using a Power Joy, but there are a bunch of ways to play Famicom games in the US. This guide details how to import for a bunch of systems.


Goodreads Giveaway for Last Call in the City of Bridges

r kelly

Hey. Do you want to read Last Call in the City of Bridges without having to pay for it? BOOM! Now you can enter this Goodreads contest and be entered in a free drawing to win signed copies of my novel and an NES or SNES game from my personal collection FOR FREE! What are you waiting for?

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Last Call in the City of Bridges by Salvatore Pane

Last Call in the City of Bridges

by Salvatore Pane

Giveaway ends June 12, 2013.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter to win

Download The Entire Earthbound Soundtrack

You’re welcome. This is one of my happiest internet discoveries.

Retro Video Game Finds IX or How I Bought Metal Storm For Two Dollars

Big news on the retro gaming front this weekend. I was in Minneapolis with my girlfriend for a wedding, and we had just gotten breakfast at this amazing bowling alley/theatre/brunch place. We walked outside, and I made a joke about doing some light game chasing, and lo and behold, there was a retro game arcade/store next door. Unfortunately, some twerp kid–who clearly wasn’t old enough to truly appreciate Track and Field II or Rampage–was throwing a birthday party inside, and the arcade wouldn’t open for another few hours. So we toured the neighborhood as planned and when we returned, I saw a guy on a bench in front of the arcade waiting to go in. He had two NES games and a Super Nintendo game. I figured he was planning on selling them, so I kept trying to angle myself for a better look, but he had them back label out. Finally, we were all allowed inside, and I saw him sell the games for some quarters to play the machines. I wandered over. The first title was Super Mario Bros/Duck Hunt--of course–but the second was Metal Storm.


If you don’t know Metal Storm, I feel sorry for you. It’s one of the most underrated gems on the Nintendo Entertainment System, and it’s pretty hard to find too. On eBay, prices routinely hover around $35, but I’ve seen them go for a lot higher and a lot lower. I’ve only seen one other copy in the wild during eight years of collecting and that was only a few weeks earlier in Indianapolis at an Exchange that wanted $45 for it. I almost picked it up then. So you can imagine how sweaty and nervous I was as I approached the counter. The games weren’t individually priced, and if you’re a collector, that’s one of the best signs. Most retro stores either inflate already ridiculous eBay prices or they mark up the common games everybody wants–Contra, Super Mario 3, Zelda–and don’t put the correct value on the harder to find games that stink. I asked the woman at the counter if I could buy Metal Storm even though it just came in. She said they usually cleaned them first, and I said I didn’t care. I think they were worried I’d return it if it didn’t work, and she even tested it in a Retro Duo. It didn’t work, but I clean all of my NES games before playing them anyway. She said the game was in poor condition–it was–but finally, she took it over to her husband and they decided to sell it to me for two dollars.


I was hoping to get it for $25. I would have gladly paid $25. To get it for $2, my god, my god. This was my best NES game find ever, right in front of finding six of the seven Bible games at a record store for $2 each. Pictures below of all my recent finds plus my girlfriend with Metal Storm and a stuffed bear cub that my grandfather murdered in cold blood.

Retro Video Game Finds III

I had an epiphany last month. I’ve been collecting Nintendo Entertainment System games for eight years now–longer than the amount of time I actually owned the NES as a kid–and what do I have to show for it? A little over 200 NES games plus an assortment of random SNES, N64, Atari 2600, Sega Saturn, and Intellivision titles. No more! I am rededicating myself to collecting all 700+ NES games in existence! I will transform myself into the greatest NES collector of all time!

This was one of my all time cheapest finds. I picked up Hydlide, Othello, Shadowgate, Slalom, and City Connection for $1 a piece and Rampart for $2.50. Hydlide and Slalom are virtually unplayable, but Shadowgate is a fun, if archaic, point and click adventure. City Connection is completely worth it for the absurdity alone–you drive around on a construction site in front of the World Trade Center killing cops; if you run over a cat you die instantly. And Rampart, of course, is an adequate port of the arcade classic. I found these all at the Ross Park Exchange, and the true gem of the haul was the Sega Saturn Stunner gun for $2.50! I paid $15 for my first Saturn gun–but what’s the fun in playing Virtua Cop with only one player–and was ecstatic to find this one for so cheap. They actually thought it was a Sega Genesis gun! What a bunch of maroons! However, when I got this bad boy home, it wouldn’t work at all. I tried it in both controller ports and was almost ready to add it to my two other recently purchased Saturn pads that didn’t work, but luckily, my pal Kevin Tassini came to the rescue.

We discovered some strange things when Kevin opened the gun. Someone had tried to use electrical tape to reconnect the circuit board, and weirder still, they taped a bunch of Japanese batteries inside that leaked acid all over the plastic casing. Kevin took the gun home and using some sort of Olde Timey Math Magic was able to repair the Saturn Stunner. Our reward was seven unfulfilling minutes playing Virtua Cop.

This holy grail of a video game is one of the rarest titles in the NES library, The Miracle Piano System. I was really shocked to discover this in the Dormont Exchange retailing for only $8. For some reason, they separated the game from the peripheral you need to play it, a full-sized keyboard that connects to your NES. The game teaches you how to play piano–basically it was a trick some parents pulled to make kids think they were getting a Nintendo game, but really it was edutainment. They were selling the piano for $100, but I was more than happy to take the game off their hands. I’m not going for a complete NES accessory collection. I just want all the games loose. I have no clue why they would separate the game and piano, however, as the only people who would buy it now are resellers or people who already own the cart loose.

I haven’t found much in flea markets or thrift stores in the past few months, but I’ve been killing it in the retail stores. Let’s talk about my baby, Rockin’ Kats, first. Rockin’ Kats is the last game that I fondly remembered from childhood that I hadn’t managed to track down. I’m 233 deep into my collection. I have the games I loved as a kid, and now I’m down to finding rare titles, which are most often brutally terrible. I played Rockin’ Kats for the first time in 1990 at my friend Joseph’s house. He rented it for a sleepover, and I was blown away. You play as a rockabilly kat who goes around shooting puppies with a gun that fires boxing gloves. WHAT ELSE DO YOU PEOPLE NEED? I normally NEVER spend this much on a Nintendo game, but I’ve been collecting for eight years, and I’d never even seen a copy of Rockin’ Kats in the wild. I gladly paid $12 at the Monroeville Exchange along with $2.50 each for Caesar’s Palace–pretty self-explanatory–and Short Order/Eggsplode, a highly uncommon Power Pad game. I paid $7 for Clash at Demonhead, an underrated NES classic, at the Century III Cash In Culture.

Oh, boy. Two weekends ago I visited my buddy Mark in Danville, and he took me to this very respectable retro game store in Lewisburg. When I saw this, I almost spazzed. A SEALED NES GAME! Do you know how rare these are? Sealed NES games–even the common ones–can fetch upwards of a hundred dollars on eBay. More important than that, they’re premium trade bait–more on that in a bit. The way to tell an original seal from a reseal is relatively simple. You see that plastic line on the back of the box toward the bottom of the pic? That’s called an H Seam. If your sealed NES game has an H Seam, you’re probably in the clear. I paid $10 for this, and it wasn’t until I was outside that I realized someone had used an exacto knife to cut open the top of the box. It was open. They just kept the majority of the seal on. In my excitement over seeing my first ever sealed NES game, I forgot to check the top of the box. An obvious blunder, but it’s still a neat item to have in the collection.

I also purchased the wonderful Kickle Cubicle for $9. That was a little high, but it’s fairly uncommon and I’d wanted to play it for a long time.

It’s time to get to brass tacks, folks. One of the reasons I’ve been so hyped up on NES games as of late is because I discovered this forum about NES collecting called Nintendo Age. In 2004, when I first began collecting, I joined a few forums, but the conversations were always about what game you found at the flea market or on ebay, and I lost interest quickly. In the meantime, the NES collecting scene online has completely and utterly changed. Because of online shows like Angry Video Game Nerd, Pat the NES Punk, and The Game Chasers, demand for these old games has skyrocketed. Games that I recall being worth a few hundred are now fetching a few thousand. There’s even a a site that accurately tracks how much NES games are worth using an algorithm that takes current ebay,, and Amazon prices into account. Best of all, Nintendo Age has a trading forum. It took me awhile to piece together the ramifications of this, but eventually I realized I could trade the rare games I’d acquired for other systems and nab a bunch of hard to find NES titles. This was the first deal I made. I traded Pocky and Rocky 2 for the SNES, one of system’s rarest titles, for this lot of Mario’s Time Machine, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Impossible Mission II, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, and Galaga. All are uncommon, Mario is rare, and Indy and Impossible Mission are bordering on rare. And all it cost me was the price of shipping Pocky and Rocky, a game I almost never played.

The Impossible Mission II cart had seen better days. The board was so loose inside the cart, that whenever I put it into the NES it slid up inside the plastic. This was an easier fix than I anticipated. Most NES games can only be opened with a special 3.8mm Security Tool, but IMII is an unlicensed game. Nintendo of America never approved it, so the company released the game to the few stores that would carry it in their own shoddy plastic shells. Luckily, American Video Entertainment used standard screws. I was able to pop the game open and clean the board using Windex. Then I used electrical tape to make two weights with a handful of pennies. I secured the board in place and taped a balance under it, placing the pennies just above the board. Now, when I push the game into the NES, the pennies stop the board from getting stuck inside the plastic. If you’re wondering if this game is fun or worth the trouble, the answer is absolutely not. Collecting NES games isn’t about having fun.

This past weekend, I hit Trader Jack’s but came up empty. I luckily found some decent games afterward. I bought this copy of Cruisn’ World for $1 at the Dormont Exchange and Snake Rattle N Roll for $5 at Groovy, a retro toy store, on the Southside. Snake Rattle N Roll is almost too bizarre to describe. You play as a snake head and have to eat all these balls to become bigger while toilet seats and alligators try and eat you. It’s pretty great, guys.

Earlier today, I made a trade on Nintendo Age to give up Xenogears–a rare PSX RPG–for a working Power Pad, Star Fox 64, Yoshi’s Story 64, and 1942 on NES. I shipped it out and then checked out the Squirrel Hill Exchange to see if they’d gotten anything new. I’m glad I did. I picked up two classic N64 titles, Shadows of the Empire and Turok 2, for $2.50 each and then two horrific NES games, Super Glove Ball–which only works with the infamous Power Glove–for $2.50 and Metal Gear 2: Snake’s Revenge for $5. I love the Metal Gear series and have always wanted to play this weird bastard child iteration. You ever notice that so many NES sequels–Adventure of Link, Super Mario 2, Castlevania 2–are universally considered the worst entries in the series? What’s up with that?

What’s up with old video games, you guys?

Retro Video Game Finds II

This was a huge find for me and proof why you should hit up your local trade in spots as much as possible. There’s an Exchange retail store very close to my house (just a stone’s throw away from my favorite bar, the Squirrel Cage), and I tracked down this gem after stopping in on a whim before happy hour. Splatterhouse is a Turbografx-16 classic. I don’t own a Turbografx, but I’ve been considering making the plunge for a long time. I had Bonk’s Adventure for Gameboy as a kid, and I’m dying to play through the Bonk trilogy as it was originally meant to be played: on the Turbografx. Buying Splatterhouse for $10 is incentive. Now if I see a TG-16 for $75 with no games as I did in Chicago, I’ll have a good reason to pick it up. Plus, these game carts are so weird. I just like looking at them.

I’ve been trying to bulk up my Saturn collection since stumbling onto the system at my local Goodwill last month, and I recently picked up Virtua Fighter 2 for $5 at Ninja Entertainment in Dormont. NE is a great location for retro stuff, and they also resurface discs which apparently is pretty rare for Pittsburgh. I got the cart on the right for $10 at the Exchange a few stores over from Ninja Entertainment. They didn’t know what it was and had it lumped in with the N64 memory cards. The Interact Memory Card is a notoriously buggy device that allows you to play import games on your Sega Saturn. The 2d import library of the Sega Saturn is legendary, so I was pretty stoked to find this, but so far I’ve been unable to get it to work. I tried cleaning the exposed microchip with window cleaner and q-tips, but I might have to scrub down the actual pins in the system. If that doesn’t work, I can still buy the more reliable Pro Action Replay 4 in 1 + which acts as an import device, memory card, and ram card. Some of the 2d fighters on Saturn are so intense they need additional ram. The card usually runs for $25 plus shipping on specialty websites.

I visited my girlfriend Theresa a few weeks ago out on the eastern side of PA, and I arrived a few hours before she got out of work. So I headed to nearby Bristol and picked up The Ren and Stimpy Show: Buckeroos! on NES for $7 and Virtua Cop on Saturn for $5. The video game store there was pretty stocked with options and they had a neat little arcade room where they were taking bids on an old Mr. Do’s Castle machine. But they knew what they had, and their prices reflected that. Great supply of Turbografx-16 games though.

This is some king shit. A few days after finding Virtua Cop, Theresa took me to this amazing retro game store in Glensdale, PA called Classic Game Junkie. Reader, I’ve been collecting retro games for eight years, and this is BY FAR the best retro game store I’ve ever been to. You walk in, and the level end music for Super Mario Bros. plays. They had everything. NES, SNES, Virtual Boy, Turbografx, Saturn, pong clones, import games. They had ROBs and Power Gloves and Vectrex systems. They had rare oddities I’ve never even seen in real life before like the Famicom Disk System and Panic Restaurant. And best of all, the owner makes reproduction Nintendo carts. He had a reproduction of Nintendo World Championship 1990, the rarest game of all typically selling for $10,000, for $40. He had a repo of the never-before-released prototype of California Raisins: The Great Escape! I pretty much flipped my shit and bought the Saturn gun (the Stunner) and 3D Controller for a combined $30. Then I dropped $6 on Attack of the Killer Tomatoes for NES (it’s pretty uncommon, and I’ve never seen it before) and $14 each for NiGHTS and Street Fighter Alpha. If you’re anywhere near the eastern side of Pennsylvania, you have to check this store out.

Retro Video Game Finds

Now that I have a tenure track job and a forthcoming novel, I’ve decided to turn this blog into a tumblr about all the retro video games I find.

Ok. I’m not going that far, but I do think it might be fun if I document some of the games I find in my travels. Most people who know me in real life know I’m a huge retro game collector. I don’t much care for the new systems–I have a Wii that I mostly use for Netflix and occasionally NBA2K12–and instead prefer the games of my youth or earlier: the Nintendo Entertainment System and games where you go right and jump. I started collecting in 2004 and my ultimate goal is to own all 750 NES games. So far I’m a little over 200 mostly because I’ve dipped into collecting Super Nintendo, Atari 2600, Intellivision, and most recently, Sega Saturn games.

What most laypeople find relatively interesting about retro gaming is the way I go about finding them. I personally think buying them online is cheating and half the fun of the hobby is finding these things in the wild. That means flea markets, pawn shops, and thrift stores. You can find old games via retail outlets, but those are growing rarer and I try to avoid them because of the marked up prices. Nintendo games are not worth more than $5, and I do my best not to pay more than that.

Recently, I visited Chicago, Columbus, and Indianapolis. Here’s what I found along with a few things tracked down in Pittsburgh. Everything was purchased within the last two weeks.

I found these in an Exchange chain store in Chicago. They’re Super Famicon games–the Japanese Super Nintendo equivalent. Dragon Quest I & II, Dragon Quest V, and Dragon Quest VI. They’re text heavy and completely in Japanese and I have no way to play them, but at $5 a pop, I couldn’t pass them up–my friends Kevin and Katie were with me when I purchased these and when I told them they were completely impossible to play they just blinked at me; even the store clerk sassed me.

I also picked these up during AWP at a different retail store that had tons of retro games. I nabbed Wall Street Kid for 95 cents and A Boy and His Blob: Trouble on Bloblonia for $2. I regret nothing.

These were total no brainers. Complete, in-box Intellivision games from the same Chicago retail store as above. Star Strike was $5 and Demon Attack was $2. The later is my favorite Intellivision game that I currently own, and the former was promoted by the Paris Review‘s George Plimpton.

I picked these up at the Exchange a few blocks away from my apartment. $2 each for Viper and Wrath of the Black Manta, common but fun games, and $5 for King of the Ring, a pretty uncommon, bordering on rare, late generation NES title. Plus it has Bret Hart on the cover.

Intellivision games are wildly overpriced, so I was ecstatic to find these three titles for $1 each at a retail store in Columbus, Ohio. BurgerTime is an all time favorite, and I’m curious to see what 1982 NBA action looks like on Intellivision. Tron Deadly Discs is the steal of the group, as I’ve seen it go complete, in-box for over $25. Plus, it yells at you. I have the Intellivision voice module and greatly look forward to being verbally abused by the Master Control Program.

Both of these gems cost $2. I picked up Marble Madness at the same Columbus store from above, and I found All Pro Basketball–developed by one of my favorite NES companies, Vic Tokai–at a flea market in Pittsburgh, Trader Jack’s.

Professional Idiot Chris Lee left his Nintendo 64 at my house last year, and I’m never giving it back. At Trader Jack’s, I haggled some bro eating a sandwich into giving me Perfect Dark and Wave Race 64 for a combined $4. Eat it, Chris Lee.

This is easily my best thrift store find–surpassing Double Dragon III for $1 in 2005–and my best system find ever–surpassing an Odyssey 3000 at Trader Jack’s for $6. I purchased this Sega Saturn with all the hook ups and a controller at Goodwill for $13. They clearly didn’t know what they had. Saturns can set you back $50 normally, and the clerk thought that a stack of Atari 2600 games would work on it. I MEAN COME ON.

The system has a broken watch battery inside, so every time I turn it on it asks me if it’s 1994–my girlfriend saw this and burst out laughing–but other than that, it works great.

Another steal at Trader Jack’s! I bought the turbo pad and multi-controller adapter for Saturn at $5 combined, and I found the regular pad in Columbus for $7. Now I can play Sega Saturn with five other friends. The only difficulty is finding a single other human being on earth who wants to play Sega Saturn in 2012.

Saturn games are pretty difficult to track down these days, but I managed some good deals. I found Dayton USA for $2 in Indianapolis and Fighting Vipers for $8 in the Dormont Exchange. Scud–based on a comic written by Community creator Dan Harmon–and The Hordea strategy adventure starring Kirk Cameron as a medieval servant named Chauncey–set me back $6 combined at Trader Jack’s.

Earthbound: The Best Meta-Satire of 1994?

(Note: this is the first in a series of posts examining formally interesting video games. Check the second–about 1998’s Metal Gear Solid–here.)

Last month, Oscar Villalon wrote a piece on The Rumpus echoing Tom Bissell’s sentiments that many members of this generation do not catalog their lives by albums or movies, but through video games. Of course, I made a few remarks in the comments section. One responder said that while interested like Bissell in thinking about the new narrative opportunities afforded by video games, she doesn’t actually want to play them. In fact, she wouldn’t even know where to start, and instead, she offhandedly hoped that somebody would make a gaming mix tape for those whose only introduction to the form is Tetris.


I thought that I might cover a couple video games over the next few months with the same literary lens I’ve been using to look at comic books. And the first one I’ve decided to go with is Earthbound, a 1994 release for the Super Nintendo. That should come as little to surprise to Earthbound veterans, but I’m imagining that most people who read this blog, even some gamers, aren’t aware of this relatively obscure game. The first thing we have to talk about right out of the gate is the box.

The box is bigger than my head.

That shit don’t mess around. And when you’re a ten-year-old boy wandering around the local Electronics Boutique, that giant face-sized behemoth is going to stick out. The box is so big because the game comes with its own strategy guide and a John Waters-esque pack of odorama gross out cards. Imagine me in 1994 utterly captivated by this box, so foreign, so alien, the sleek golden curvature of that figure on its front practically demanding a purchase.

So what’s the premise? Earthbound is about a group of kids who band together to fight hippies, eat cheeseburgers, break up Heaven’s Gate style cults, beat people up with frying pans, put their souls into robots, and ride the Loch Ness Monster. It’s a Japanese Role Playing Game, and for anyone not unspeakably nerdy enough to know what that is, JRPGs are text based narratives where your only method of interaction is steering the avatar (the figure the player controls onscreen) and selecting actions from a text box. Think Myst fused with Dungeons and Dragons. And up until 1994, these games for the most part followed the same formula. Dragons and magic and swords and castles. Plucky young hero watches his village destroyed by an evil empire, then has to fight them to save the world.

What’s so noteworthy about Earthbound is that it takes place in the present (199X to be exact), and the avatars are average kids with yo-yos and baseball bats for weapons. They drink soda, not potions, to repelnish their health. They get money by using their fathers’ credit cards in ATM machines, not collecting golden coins from fallen enemies. They fight crazed neighborhood dogs, not dragons.  They pal around with the Blues Brothers.


In 1994, this blew my fucking mind.

The aforementioned would be enough to make Earthbound noteworthy, just one in a line of excellent JRPGs released during the Super Nintendo era. But what pushes Earthbound over the edge from obscure gem into groundbreaking classic is the fact that it’s a satire, and it’s actually funny. Most people who play games acknowledge the fact that they’re funny. But games are rarely intentionally so. Games get chuckles when they have awful translations, not because of in-game jokes. Earthbound breaks that rule repeatedly. Sometimes you discover a trinket called “Insignificant Item” that does absolutely nothing. Other times you knock at someone’s door only to hear the hushed quotations of Beatles’ lyrics. If you approach a character called The Annoying Old Party Man you get one of these two messages: “The Annoying Old Party Man/Reveler grumbled about today’s youth” or “The Annoying Old Party Man/Reveler lectured you”. Mr. T makes a cameo. Sometimes, when fighting hippies, the game literally gives you this message: “The New Age Retro Hippie used a ruler! Now he can measure things more easily!” I’m not doing the game’s humor justice, because text can’t do the game justice. Its combination of offbeat soundtrack, Norman Rockwell-cum-Nintendo visuals, and insane story and dialogue in tandem are what make this game so truly bizarre and set apart from all the other deadly serious RPGs.

And did I mention the meta aspects of the game? Earthbound begins when an alien named Buzz Buzz (yes, Buzz Buzz) crash lands in the protagonist’s sleepy American town and explains to the young boy that he’s the inheritor of an important prophecy. This is typical JRPG crap, but Earthbound plays it off with style. Buzz Buzz alerts the player that he is critically injured and about to die, but after hearing his speech about what the game is about, he tells you he can explain it again if necessary, and in fact, can explain it an infinite amount of times despite being only seconds away from death. Multiple times throughout the game, the action will stop and a character onscreen will call to you (the real life sitting at home player, not the avatar) and ask you to take a picture of the avatars. At one point, they even ask you for your real life name and hint that they’re curious to know about the person who’s controlling them (again you) like a god-like figure in their 16-bit “lives”. And in the finale, the game asks you to send all your good karma to the protagonist so that he can defeat the final boss.


So meta. SO META!

And the ending? The ending. There’s no cut scene that finishes the game. The player has complete control and you’re free to roam around the massive game world where people thank you for playing or offer investment opportunities or chide you for missing school. There’s no true end other than turning off the power. And in 1994 this was truly memorable shit. Earthbound was the first game that made fun of itself for being a video game. Earthbound was the first game whose characters understood that they existed in a video game world, and they frequently commented on that fact.

I can’t imagine many people are going to rush out and play Earthbound after reading this (unless, like me, they’ve already played through it countless times). But like Bissell argues in Extra Lives, I think it’s important for the literary set to look at games and think about their narrative potential. They require a level of active participation that a book can never have (and that’s not a judgment on either medium). Bissell focuses much of his work on newer games, but my only true access point to gamer culture is fueled by nostalgia. Earthbound is the first game that truly made me aware of the storytelling capabilities within the video game, the first that made it clear that not everything had to follow the tired and culturally outdated “save the princess” plot line. And when I open up my Earthbound strategy guide and smell my Master Belch odorama card? Yeah. That’s a straight snort back to what it feels like to be ten-years-old again.

This reference is not lost on ten-year-olds.

Do I lose my writer card if I call Earthbound the Infinite Jest of 1994 Super Nintendo Japanese Role Playing Games?

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