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Video Game: Pharaoh

Build a Kingdom. Rule the Nile. Live Forever

Pharaoh is a Simulation Game developed by Impressions Games and published by Sierra on 1999 and part of the City Building Series. It's a sequel to the Caesar games. As its name implies, the game is set in Ancient Egypt, and in campaign mode it follows the exploits of several dynasties throughout history. You'll get the chance to construct massive Mastabas and Pyramids, battle against the Nubians, cultivate the fertile banks of the Nile, and even have to appease the various Egyptian gods to avoid retribution and receive blessings, or, alternatively, curses.

It received a minor Expansion Pack, Cleopatra: Queen of the Nile. Both can be purchased on GOG.com.


This game provides examples of:

  • 0% Approval Rating - You can actually fall into this, with the logical consequences. In what is probably a subversion, the approval rating that matters more is the one from the Pharaoh, not the people: piss him enough to 0% Kingdom Rating (i.e. by not paying tributes several years in a row) and he will send his armies against your fair city (fed-up citizens just up and leave). This also happens if you are the Pharaoh, so you apparently attack yourself.
    • Your citizens, too. They will desert your city if their wages are low, the taxes are high, there is a serious lack of jobs, they don't have enough food to eat, you don't throw in Festivals every now and then...
    • And then there is the approval rating from the gods. Failing to appease them properly can result in sudden drop of reputation, destruction of farms, destruction of goods, sudden death of soldiers, mass plague...
    • After you become Pharaoh (for the Itjtawy mission) you have this as everyone thinks you stole the title from the previous Pharaoh after his death. In our history, Itjtawy was founded by Amenemhat I, the first Pharaoh of the Twelfth Dynasty, who did indeed usurp the throne.
  • Acceptable Breaks from Reality - Buildings are built instantly, but they can't actually produce anything until they have workers and materials.
    • Labor is taken from the workforce as a whole - shut down an industry and all those previously working there will be employed elsewhere, regardless of the nature of employment.
  • Ancient Egypt
  • Alternate History - The game is more-or-less historical from the era of the Naqada culture and Thinite confederacy prior to 3000 BC until approximately 2000 BC, and the beginning of the Twelfth Dynasty. At that point, the player's dynasty takes control of the throne of Egypt and holds it for the rest of the game, into what our history records as the Eighteenth Dynasty; the last missions you play in the vanilla game are clearly intended to represent the exploits of Ahmose I, who reigned in the mid-sixteenth century BC.
    • The Cleopatra expansion quietly retcons the notion of a single dynasty holding Egypt for half a millennium, and the first mission has you building a tomb - the very first tomb - in the Valley of the Kings for Thutmose I, Ahmose's grandson from the historical Eighteenth Dynasty. From then on, every Pharaoh is historical. However, the game does revisit alternate history, as the very last mission in the game is the Battle of Actium. The win condition is a victory by the combined forces of Antony and Cleopatra. In our history, Octavian won the battle, and went on to become the first Roman Emperor.
  • Ambidextrous Sprite - even buildings. The Sphinx is the most noticeable.
  • Amusing Injuries - When working on an obelisk, stonemasons will occasionally fall off the scaffolding.
  • Ancient Astronauts - Actually a cheat code in the Expansion Pack. It gives you significantly faster monument construction.
  • Apathetic Citizens - The apothecary's walker only cares about whether a malaria outbreak's likely; the architect also speaks only of buildings in poor condition, despite having the full allotment of soundbites.
  • Arbitrary Headcount Limit - There can only be 6 legions of 16 units and 6 warships total on a map.
  • Awesome, but Impractical - Manors and Estates give ridiculous amounts of tax money and greatly improve Prosperity, but their hundred-plus inhabitants are taken out of the workforce and take up a lot of space. As this level of housing requires dozens upon dozens of workers to support, they tend to devolve very quickly.
  • Badass Preacher - With the upgrades to the Temple Complex of Seth or Ra, their priests will attack robbers.
  • Bag of Spilling - With an exception or two in the expansion, nothing from one level carries over to the next.
    • It quickly becomes thoroughly ridiculous in the Cleopatra expansion. You have to build Alexandria three times (named Alexandria, Ptolemy's Alexandria, and Cleopatra's Alexandria) from the ground up. You keep the landmarks from the previous iterations of the level, except everything else has completely vanished.
      • Alexandria is in 331 BC; the mission directly after, Ptolemy's Alexandria, is in 305 BC. Alexandria (the first one) ends in 319 BC, and 314 BC if you govern for five more years. So the capital of Egypt became entirely deserted in nine years? Seems legit.
    • The main exception is that you can give yourself a salary, which will pass on to your descendants. Normally this isn't too important, as the main use for personal funds (giving gifts to other rulers to boost your kingdom rating) has their costs based on a percentage of your funds, you can give some of your money to the city coffers, thus quickly turning into a Game Breaker if you feel like sitting around for several years growing filthy rich.
    • In an example of The Dev Team Thinks of Everything, your salary is reduced to zero if you choose to keep governing after winning (to prevent you from greatly increasing your salary for a few years safe from the threat of losing).
  • Big Fancy House - The higher-level houses, as well as your dynasty's mansion.
  • Birth-Death Juxtaposition - In the beginning cutscene, the narrating Pharaoh tells his son that he was born just as his father was being prepared for the afterlife.
  • Blood Knight - Set's priests will be the only ones happy about an incoming invasion.
  • Bolt of Divine Retribution - Or rather Plague of Divine Retribution if you don't worship Bast enough. Seth and Ptah will set forts and storage yards on fire, and Osiris takes away floodplain farms.
  • Boring, but Practical - Sing the praises of the humble roadblock, for it prevents the nightmare of walkers going anywhere they please.
  • Bread and Circuses - Throwing festivals and making sure there's enough food can keep your citizens from leaving or revolting, usually due to your incompetent leadership.
  • Bribing Your Way to Victory - In-Universe. If your kingdom rating isn't high enough, you can send expensive gifts, paid for with your own money, to make it rise. However, the less you wait between sending bribes the lower the increase (and the price of the gifts double every time).
  • Brick Joke - "Mothers all over the kingdom name their children after you" to "Mothers use your name to frighten their children" at high and low kingdom ratings. One has to wonder what happens to the poor children now bearing your name...
  • Build Like an Egyptian - Often the goal of a campaign includes building certain pyramids.
  • But Thou Must - When famished neighboring cities start begging you for food, you better provide. If you don't, then they won't trade with you products that your citizens need, thus preventing you from reaching high prosperity, thus preventing you from completing your mission. If you have the heart to refuse them? Too bad, your popularity drops, the people of Egypt begin to doubt your patriotism, and if you don't repair their opinion of you, Pharaoh will send his army against your fair city.
    • Taken to ludicrous levels in the final level of the main game. You get requests as early as three months in to the mission.
  • Catch-22 Dilemma - A recurring situation where your housing starts devolving because it no longer has access to some services, most often because of a worker shortage. When housing devolves, several citizens are kicked out, reducing the workforce even further, causing the housing to fall to an even lower level, and so on. The only way to fix the situation is to increase the workforce and improve the services, which can only be done by getting new workers to move into the area...
  • Chokepoint Geography - Averted. While you can build defensive chokepoints, the enemy can and often will simply go around them, and that's not even getting into the problem of waterborne troops.
  • Civil War - Halfway in the game, between Lower Egypt (Northern) and Upper Egypt (Southern). Naturally enough, your side (the southern city of Waset/Thebes) is cast as the good guy.
    • Possibly justified- at several times, the guy giving you the pre-level exposition is stated to be a high-ranking official. It's perfectly possible he's an Unreliable Narrator. Indeed, the only time the Pharaoh himself (Mentuhotep II, in this case) gives you instruction is prior to Menat-Khufu or Kebet.
  • Comic Book Time - Your character's descendants succeed you after every level... except your character is seemingly immortal during the level.
  • Command And Conquer Economy - The citizens show very little initiative. Not only do you have to build everything for them except housing (which you merely designate plots for), they do not even go to the market themselves to buy food and goods; a peddler has to walk past. Owing to the vagaries of the walker system, you risk losing a lot of workers to an entire street being deserted due to a priestess failing to walk down it sufficiently often. Obviously, the Egyptians going to the temple themselves is out of the question.
  • Critical Staffing Shortage: A game mechanic, and quite possibly the single biggest headache in the game. Services that have less than full staff work slower, and since housing and industry depend on these services walking past, this creates a Catch-22 Dilemma: housing is devolving because the lack of services, so people are kicked out. This lowers your population, and in turn the amount of available workers, which means services suffer, which means devolving housing, which... Compounded by the fact that some buildings don't work at all with even a single worker missing, to the point where the game considers that up 5% unemployment (out of thousands) to be fine, a mere 10 workers is a major cause for alarm (when it's quite common to see shortages in the hundreds).

    Thankfully, there are several Acceptable Breaks from Reality to deal with this: workers are taken from the workforce as a whole, so closing a mine frees up workers for farming or training musicians, you can order entire sectors to be fully staffed at the cost of others, and you only need a single house near the industry to get workers to it instead of a fully-supported neighborhood.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle - War chariots literally mow regular infantry units under their wheels.
    • Military units against nearly anything else, policemen and hunters only slow them down but can't kill them.
  • Cycle of Hurting - Some housing lots become this during times of worker shortages, evolving quickly thanks to a walker moving by, then devolving when he doesn't come by enough. Especially obvious with the multi-square housing.
  • Deadpan Snarker - The monument construction foreman is impressively sarcastic in his reports.
    I suppose these bricks are going to magically assemble themselves. That must be your plan, since you haven't built a bricklayer's guild.
    No peasants have reported for work today. Maybe your work camps are more like sleep camps.
    With no carpenters to builds ramps, I hope you're planning on a very short monument.
    Do you expect this monument to be built by gods from the sky? Build more work camps immediately!
  • Decisive Battle - Several times. This usually means you must build a heavily fortified city in a strategic point with poor resources, constantly besieged by the Nubians / the Hyksos / the Sea People / what have you. The Cleopatra expansion gives you the Battle of Actium.
    • Additionally, every battle Pharaoh tells you to send reinforcements for is apparently this, as defeat becomes your fault (you should have sent better/more troops).
    • Hilariously, one mission like this, Serabit Khadim, can be completely bypassed. You need a Kingdom of 80, a population of 2000, and nothing else - so just spam houses everywhere until you get a high enough population, send a gift to Egypt with your family savings, and get out of there before the first invasion.
  • The Dev Team Thinks of Everything - Your salary is fixed at a certain quantity of debens per months, no matter how well the city is doing. The game informs you that you can't just shovel money from the city to your own account, as that would be embezzling. Try to go above your allocated amount, and your kingdom rating is lowered (so, if you are Royal Governor, don't take a Pharaoh's salary).
  • Dummied Out - Going into the audio files reveals that architects, bazaar buyers and workers have a lot more quotes than the one or two lines they normally give. And the architect was apparently called an engineer previously, with a flagrantly-overdubbed "architect" added.
  • Earthquakes Cause Fissures - One custom mission (NAFTA) has an earthquake strike, causing unremoveable fissures. It just happens to hit in the place you've most likely placed the pyramid complex you have to build.
  • Entitled Bastard / It's All About Me / Jerkass / Rich Bitch - The scribe walker produced by high-end housing, in spades.
    Plague could break out at any time! I hope it stays in the poor parts of town.
    How can so few workers properly cater to my needs?
    Look at all those idlers. Why don't they get jobs?
    These festivals would be so much better if they were by invitation only!
  • An Entrepreneur Is You - About half of the game is this.
  • Epic Fail - In a fire, you could occasionally see your water supply being burnt to the ground.
  • The Epic - the Rags to Royalty Generational Saga of your dynasty; from a humble village elder to the almighty Pharaoh.
  • Everybody Hates Hades - Averted, Set is one of the five available gods. If pleased, he will watch over your soldiers and even strike down any invading warrior. If displeased, he sets your forts on fire.
    • However, he's definitely the least pleasant of them all. Where other gods are pleased by your respect and devotion, he appreciates your fear and obedience.
  • Exposition Break - Between levels the state of the state is discussed. Since the screen also has goals for the next mission, it can be reread to help with a Now, Where Was I Going Again? problem.
  • Feuding Families - The Reunification of Egypt arc, between the rulers of Henen-nesw (Herakleopolis) and Waset (Thebes).
  • Firewood Resources - Although they turn into planks when sitting in your storage yards.
  • Gods Need Prayer Badly - While gods need sacrifices or festivals almost constantly to keep them happy, ignoring them only makes them angry. Cue earthquakes, plagues, floods, failing crops... On the other hand, keeping them happy also brings benefits.
  • Grand Vizier - You hold this title for only one mission (either Menat-Khufu or Kebet), it having been granted to you by Mentuhotep II, who reunited the two Kingdoms of Egypt and founded the Middle Kingdom (this is also the only time in the game that the Pharaoh himself addresses you). He emphasizes that he considers you his most trusted and capable subject. In the very next mission, Ijtjawy, your dynasty has taken the throne at last - though amid rumours that you had usurped the throne, in the grand tradition of this trope. In fact, the first Pharaoh of the Twelfth Dynasty, which reigned from Ijtjawy, did indeed usurp the throne from Mentuhotep's descendant.
  • Grimy Water - In the expansion, one of the curses is a River Of Blood, which will disable all wells and water supplies until it passes.
    • One of the random events is that citizens have taken ill from something in the water, illustrated by dead fish. If your health isn't well regulated, it leads to plague.
  • Hair-Trigger Temper - "Pharaoh is about to fly into a rage" because you haven't sent him whatever it was he wanted.
  • Hello, Insert Name Here - You must name your dynasty to begin playing the game, and it even provides a list of male and female Egyptian names that you can choose, if you so wish. This is a tradition from Caesar which is then passed to Emperor. The game then refers to you as the current head of your dynasty, such as Nyarlathotep XIII.
  • Heroic Sacrifice - It is said of victorious troops that "their numbers may be diminished, but their sacrifice was for the good of Egypt!".
    • Despite having no chance of success, policemen will still move to intercept enemies, holding them up for a short amount of time.
  • Hold the Line - What police officers do while you (hopefully) order actual troops to deal with the threat.
  • Industrial Ghetto - Placing any form of heavy industry near housing will quickly devalue the property and cause it to devolve unless you put a ridiculous amount of statuary nearby.
    • Building these often becomes a vital strategy due to the short distance the walkers looking for employees will walk. A small housing block (or even just a single house) placed adjacent to the industrial buildings will never evolve past a hut, but will supply workers.
  • Intrepid Merchant - The trade caravans.
  • Instant-Win Condition - As soon as all your rating, housing and population requirements are met, you win (though you can continue to govern on later missions). It's possible to leave the city on the verge of collapse thanks to this.
  • Instrument of Murder - The musician mentions beating the enemy over the head with her sistrum if you don't start looking into improving the city's defense.
  • Interservice Rivalry - The monument builders rely on one another to make progress, and the foreman is all too happy to tell you which ones are slacking off. He gets rather passive aggressive when buildings materials are stockpiled or production is ceased.
  • Intimidating Revenue Service - Averted, citizens have no problem with paying their taxes, but won't do so until prompted by the tax collector. Though if they're set too high, they'll leave.
    Emigrant: I'm surprised they didn't tax me for leaving!
  • Large Ham - Several walkers, especially if they're particularly happy about your management.
    Juggler: There's NO PLACE I'd rather juggle!
    • There's also a couple during festivals, particularly the juggler.
    I LOVE WORKING THESE FESTIVAL CROWDS! EVERYONE'S SO HAPPY!!!
  • Level Editor
  • Logic Bomb - It's possible to end up with the game telling that your city both needs workers and that people hate you because you're not providing enough jobs. All the while armies of recruiters are trying to hire people who are fleeing the city as buildings are collapsing/catching on fire around them because no one's hired to tend to them.
    • It's also possible to make more money from taxes (which vary from 0-25% of the wages) than is actually paid in wages.
  • Mighty Glacier - The Infantry in Pharaoh, like the Legionnaires in Caesar. They're really slow but very strong.
  • Mook Chivalry - Units in melee combat will only attack one on one, leading to fifteen soldiers watching the remaining one fighting a Duel Tothe Death. Ranged units can fire at a single target as long as they're not attacked themselves.
  • Narrator - The missions are narrated by several different people, with one voice actor for each period of Egyptian history. The background music played as the narrator speaks also changes with the times. For the Cleopatra expansion, only one narrator is used, and the various music cues are chosen seemingly indiscriminately, although he does affect an "Egyptian" accent in the New Kingdom and Late Period missions, and then a "Greek" one for the Ptolemaic missions. Oddly, the narrator for the Saqqara mission (in which you build Djoser's stepped pyramid) claims to be Imhotep (the architect of that design), even though the same voice actor is used for all other Old Kingdom missions, set long before and after Imhotep's lifetime. The only other historical figure who serves as narrator is Pharaoh Mentuhotep II for the Menat-Khufu and Kebet missions, though he is played by a different voice actor than those used for most of the other missions (he had narrated the Predynastic missions at the beginning of the game, but he uses a conspicuously deeper voice for Mentuhotep).
  • Nepharious Pharaoh - Averted for the most part, unless you're really bad at answering requests (in which case Pharaoh will send his armies against your fair city). Trying to be this yourself generally gets you a game over.
  • Nice Hat - Quite a few professions, notably the priests (priests of Seth get a donkey head) and tax collectors (cobra headdress).
  • Nintendo Hard - The average missions require somewhere between 3000 to 5000 citizens and decent economy, but some endgame missions require you to have 10000 citizens, high prosperity rating, palatial houses... while finishing a Grand Pyramid Complex. This can be a Guide Dang It for some people.
    Pharaoh Mentuhotep: I know I that I am asking much of you... but I also know that you are the only one in Egypt capable of doing what I have asked.
  • No Indoor Voice - Happy jugglers are loud.
  • No Recycling
  • Not in My Backyard! - Houses won't evolve to the next level if close to unsightly buildings like bazaars and industrial buildings, despite the fact that they need those buildings to provide whatever goods and services are required to keep them at that level. Bazaars actually provide the best desirability if they're nearby but not next-door.
  • Number Two - You eventually become this to Pharaoh after he names you Vizier. He even tells you there's no one else he trusts more.
  • One True Faith - Some gods may not be worshipped in certain areas, but every god always has the same purpose when worshipped. None of that Bast turning from sun god to housekitty god over the years here!
  • Palette Swap - "Egyptian armies" look the same as your own, but with tiger-striped shields and red clothing.
    • When building a Sun Temple or Gatehouse, the decorations will match the level's patron god.
  • Perpetual Poverty - Poor housing is condemned to this.
  • Power-Up Letdown - The Temple Complex of Ra makes workers happier with less pay, which translates to... 2 debens lower than the average. Hooray.
    • Some divine blessings can be this. Ra (again) has an annoying tendency to increase your already-stellar Kingdom rating when you want him to cause other cities to increase trade.
  • Punny Name - The police constables have names like Samspadehotep, Cuffner, Magnumhotep and Merydonut.
    • Two possible names for the tax collector are Takelot and Avaris.
  • Ramming Always Works - Warships can use Arrows on Fire, but this is their most effective attack.
  • Real Time with Pause
  • Refining Resources - A key feature. There are a large number of different resources representing both raw and processed materials; a given map will only provide the natural resources to produce a few of the raw materials, while the processed goods are the ones your citizens want. To provide everything they need and make money, you have to build an economy on the resources you've got, build the appropriate industries to refine them, and trade for the goods you have no way of extracting/producing. At a pinch, it's possible to make an industry out of Refining Resources alone (and is in fact explicitly recommended by the narrator); importing flax, building Weavers and exporting linen at a profit, for example.
  • Ridiculously Fast Construction - Even when paused!note  Note that while construction itself is instantaneous, getting the building to actually fulfill its purpose takes time (to get enough workers and materials).
    • Averted with the monuments - unless you have the "Pyramid Speedup" option turned on.
  • Score Screen
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here! - If you get really bad at managing the city (high unemployment, lack of food, high taxes...), your citizens will leave of their own accord.
    • Soldiers' morale drops steadily as they stay in combat. If it gets too low, they panic and run back to their fort.
  • Self-Deprecation - Some walkers will say the city's reputation is worse than a juggler's. One of them is the juggler himself.
  • Shout-Out - The senet player references various games in nearly all his lines.
    People's health is in jeopardy. The risk of plague is great!
    This city's reputation is checkered at best.
    I ought to learn the warcraft.
    This city should clue in on the lack of entertainment.
    For most, finding work is a trivial pursuit that ends in failure.
    This city has a monopoly on my heart.
  • Shown Their Work - The timeline is historically accurate... prior to your ascension, at least.
  • Silliness Switch - The cheat code Side Show causes hippos to dance. Wearing pink tutus. Amusingly enough, this doesn't make them any less dangerous.
  • Smurfette Principle - The priestess of Bast, bazaar employees, musicians and dancers.
  • Spiritual Successor - Immortal Cities: Children Of The Nile.
  • Sterility Plague: The only way to increase population is to build new areas of housing for immigrants.
  • Super Drowning Skills - No one ever survives a ship sinking. Or getting stuck on the rising flood plain, for that matter (not even hippos).
  • Super Strength - One storage yard carter can carry four blocks of stone, a load that normally requires half a dozen stone pullers.
  • Talking to Himself - It gets obvious early on that all the voices are provided by maybe four or five people.
  • Take That, Audience! - If you let your kingdom rating get too low. Going from object of ridicule to people using your name to scare children to thinking you cause disease to jugglers making fun of you to wishing you were eaten by jackals, among others.
  • Too Dumb to Live - So, you're a farmer with a load of grain. There's no space in the granary, so you're just going to sit on the flood plain and wait for the water to come and drown you. What's that? Go to the mainland and wait for space to open up? Screw that! You're staying and drowning!
  • Trial-and-Error Gameplay - Sort of. Even though it's often partially hinted in the mission briefing, you will often have no idea what product the neighbours will request you. On top of that, the military buildings are available on most missions, but are unneeded on some. And you can't settle up everything that fast. So have fun figuring out the requests, and restart the mission to suit them.
  • Units Not to Scale - All people and animals take up one square. Some buildings take up one square. Firefighters are bigger than the fire station.
  • Ungrateful Bastard - Sometimes it feels like your citizens are all this, see Not in My Backyard!.
    • Occasionally your kingdon rating falls for no reason but that the people of Egypt are displeased. Sometimes it evens gets a "despite" mesaage.
  • Unwinnable by Mistake
    • In Saqqara, if you don't accept an early gift of pomegranates, you will not get to trade with a city that sells wood, which is a necessary material for monument construction in the city. (Carpenters are shown building ramps and scaffolding.) Since the city already produces a lot of pomegranates, and the gift comes before you've had much time to develop anything, this is a more easy unwinnable situation to end up in than most.
    • Also in Saqqara, if you don't praise Ra enough, he might make people sell less stuff to you. Including making the only town selling reed - that you need to import to get papyrus - stop. No sending the grave materials to the pyramid, no winning. And to a less dangerous and more annoying extent, more tiles of houses for the same amount of people.
    • One mission has a city ask you for shipments of limestone, which you produce in great quantities since no one buys it. However, at one point they ask you for plain stone, which you can't mine for, but you can't even import it.
    • Failing to respond to a request may create this situation, some trade routes are opened only when a request is fulfilled, and are otherwise Lost Forever.
  • Veteran Unit - Your military units start as "Green" and become "Regular" with enough combat experience or after going through your war academy. They gain experience and more levels the more they fight, becoming more deadly and resilient. In some scenarios it's vital that you level-up your units as you can only field six regiments since the enemy comes in overwhelming odds and some units such as war chariots literally stomp normal units.
  • Video Game Caring Potential - Every time there's a famine or invasion, you can send food to starving citizens or soldiers to fend off the attack.
  • Video Game Cruelty Potential - See above, but note that not responding to these lowers your kingdom rating.
  • Video Game Time - The later levels can take decades to finish, with centuries not uncommon.
  • Walking Wasteland - Houses hit by plague create a special walker, who walks the streets infecting every house he passes unless stopped by an Apothecary or upgraded priestess of Bast.
    • If your Kingdom rating is too low, "it is widely believed your presence causes malaria".
  • Walk on Water - See Super Not-Drowning Skills.
  • Wasteland Elder - You, in the early missions: the lowest rank is "Village Elder", and most of the missions are set in the desert.
  • Why Do You Keep Changing Jobs? - Employees are taken from the workforce as a whole- shut down a lumber mill or granite mine and educational facilities will now have enough workers, etc.
  • You Have Failed Me - Oh boy, where do we begin... see 0% Approval Rating, above.
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alternative title(s): Pharaoh
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