Why I’m switching to Unity

•October 28, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Well, Enola has been released and even if we’re still missing nightmare mode (plus a few other adjustments), I’m still scratching my head as to what to do next.

(The truth is I’m already working on something with other people, but I can’t talk about that just yet).

Anyway, things on the game development tools have changed a lot since I began working on Enola. I am not sure if I’m right, but I get the impression UDK is will be left behind at some point now that UE4 is out. So, one way or another there’s the chance I’d need to switch to either UE4 or something else.

For some time I was thinking the logical step would be to switch to UE4, but during this time I’ve been keeping an eye on what Unity is doing. Finally, a few weeks ago I decided my next project (meaning the next project I “write” or “direct”) will be developed with Unity, and here’s why:

 

UE4 seems to be a resource hog.

Well, on my desktop computer UE4 runs kinda smoothly, but my Macbook Pro sometimes has issues keeping up. Now, here’s the problem, that MBP is a few months old freaking Retina Display computer that can handle big images, video editing and even 3d applications just fine. Maybe the Geforce GT 750M is not well suited for high end gaming, but I am not working on high end game development, so I don’t really care if it can’t run [insert new AAA game here] at 1080p at constant 60fps (on a side note, the Retina Display resolution is actually above 1080p…). When the computer has problems running the Epic demos at a smooth framerate (say, 60fps), I have a problem, and I’m not talking about the “Elemental” demo, but the basic office interior demo.

My desktop computer is not *better* than the MBP. Actually it’s slower, with less RAM, but it has a freaking 4Gb Quadro card. Tiny difference…

 

Unity can target more platforms right off the bat.

Since you can run UE4 on the Mac, you can compile the games for the Mac too. However, considering what I said on the previous point I wonder if it’d be a good idea. However, I’m not just speaking about Mac, but also Linux (if I ever think that’s a good idea), Playstation platforms and Xbox One.

Unity can also build for mobile, that’s secondary since I’m not into mobile games.

 

Unity has a big add-on ecosystem.

If there’s one thing I find interesting is the Asset Store. It’s not like I’m looking for a “press here to create cool game” engine, but having a lot of resources at your disposal always helps, specially since I am not a programmer, and it’s not like I can easily code things (actually Kismet was one of the main reasons why I used UDK for Enola).

Right now I already have PlayMaker, a module to create point and click games, and a few other things, so I have enough to experiment at the moment.

Besides, Unity has a lot of online resources, tutorials and such.

 

I am not a graphics whore.

Using a very high end engine like UDK, and now UE4, sets certain expectations in the look department. It doesn’t matter if you picked UE4 because of the blueprints system (or UDK for Kismet, for that matter), your game better look like an AAA title or else it means you didn’t take advantage of the engine.

Unreal is not a “rendering engine.” It’s a “game development” engine and that means “taking advantage of the engine” can mean different things to different people, but not everyone shares the same view since many believe taking advantage of the engine means adding bloom and lens flares. Also, just because the engine supports a wide variety of rendering features doesn’t mean you have to use them, or that you will be able to use them (due to skill level and whatnot).

I think this is a big problem, because your options are make it AAA quality or make something completely different (like Antichamber) because your skills may not allow you to go full AAA-quality.

Unity doesn’t come near UE4 when it comes to graphic fidelity, but it can produce very good quality with some work, and there are also some very cool material libraries available on the Asset Store (see previous point).

 

Licensing differences.

Unity Pro can cost $1500 (or more, depending on the add-ons you use) right off the bat, while UE4 is available for $19 a month (Unity Pro costs $75 a month if you use a subscription). On the other hand you can use the free version free of charge, and release commercial games with it. So, here UE4 has the advantage because the initial cost is much lower, and I have to admit UE4 wins here, as long as you don’t go over a certain threshold where royalties paid start to go over whatever initial cost Unity would have.

 

I make somewhat simple games.

I mostly like story-driven games with simple mechanics because I am not a programmer. Enola is a small and simple game and yet it’s over 1Gb. Unity games can be much smaller. I noticed this when I made a small UDK game with only one level and a few objects, and it was over 150Mb in size, while the Unity projects tend to be smaller. It’s not fun to end up with really big installers for a game that isn’t really that big, and then upload those with a somewhat slow internet connection.

Maybe in the future I will work on some sort of story-driven open world sandbox game, but that’s not happening any time soon.

 

There’s no reason why my simple games would require a killer computer.

Back to the first point, a game engine will usually require more resources for development than for running a game. That doesn’t mean I can run UE4 (or UDK) games on any computer I want, but many computers (including old computers) can run Unity games.

I have an old Dell laptop with integrated graphics. That laptop doesn’t even allow me to install Enola, but the “angry bots” Unity demo sorta runs (at roughly 30fps). So, what if one of my simple story-driven games appeals to people who don’t have Titan cards and such? Yeah, saying “sorry, your computer is not good enough to run my simple point and click game” would be such a great answer…

 

That doesn’t mean I will never use UE4. I actually have UE4 and the full source, and if I work on a game with someone else, and that person wants to use UE4, I will use it. However, UE4 and UDK will not be my default game development tools from now on.

‘Hatred’ and its senseless quest to be… like almost every other game out there…

•October 21, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Last week some devs (I can’t remember their name, but that’s not important anyway) revealed their debut title, a game about some guy that hates humanity because he hates humanity, and he wants to kill humanity because he hates humanity. Very deep. Anyway, we’ve seen a lot of reactions to that game and everyone is talking about it being too violent or going too far.

At first I found it shocking and I was pissed off at the game, just like a lot of people, but then I took a little more time to think about the whole thing. I came to the realization that the game isn’t really different to other games out there, save for the fact that other games have a "plot" (quotes meaning "an excuse to kill everything that moves").

‘Hatred’ devs supposedly want to make a game that delivers the REAL gaming fun experience (or something like that) and that goes against the trends of making colorful "politically correct" games (whatever the hell that means). So, does it go against the "trend of making colorful politically correct" games (again, whatever the hell that means)? In a world full of hyper-realistic FPSs, GTAs, gory horror games, violent top-down/sidescroller shooters, combat-oriented sandbox games, and violent third person shooters where you raid tombs from time to time (oh, yes, I’m talking about the latest Tomb Raider game), the whole "We’re going against the trends!!! Suck it!!!" speech plain stupid because it’s nothing more than wishful thinking.

But being game that delivers the "REAL" gaming fun experience (or something like that) is something I’d find rather accurate because, no matter what the "plot" says ("you have been chosen to do this or that because you’re the best!!!"), most of the time you end up with a game about killing people (or zombies, or aliens, or whatever).

To continue this post I need to ask a few things:

1. We all know there are different kinds of games, so why ‘Hatred’ can be considered "more of the same" rather than "more of the same in that tiny group of the whole gaming spectrum"?

2. Graphic fidelity seems to go hand in hand with better and more realistic (or gruesome) ways of killing characters. Is it logical to think how photorealistic videogame character deaths will be in 5 or 10 years from now?

3. Is "it’s OK because it’s just a game" a good answer or is it just a bullshit excuse? (No, I have no reason to sugarcoat this third question).

 

More of the same in a world where not everything is the same.

So, a group of "real" gamers are complaining about "this sorta-new trend to make politically correct games" like they just discovered cellphones have cameras. I wonder if they are aware some of us were playing adventure games or puzzle games while they were playing whatever FPS was available in the 90’s, or if they think making something else than FPSs or such is somehow a new trend.

So why is this specific videogame considered "more of the same" in a world where not everything is the same? Are we really getting tons and tons of shooting/killing games and almost zero "other games" or is it just that those shooting/killing games are always the ones getting attention, or being more prominently displayed as THE face of gaming?

In other words, what’s the point of the “nice colorful games” or the “art-games” when sometimes it seems that big games about shooting is only thing worth taking about?

And BTW, we can talk about how other games have plots and how the shooting is part of the plot, but I’d be willing to argue that half of the time it’s because plots are written so that shooting plays an important role. Plot or no plot, a COD or GTA is not different to ‘Hatred.’

 

Looking for a bigger (and more photorealistic) bang.

I’ve always liked Mortal Kombat (except the crappy ones in 3d). Even if it’s violent, I find it funny because violence in that game is extremely ridiculous (you know, lots and lots of blood when the character is barely hit, and over the top fatalities). When I learned they were making a new Mortal Kombat I was really excited.

Then I saw the X-Ray moves and everything went to shit.

So, you’re saying that…

blogpost1

Give me a break…

In many other games you can chop heads off, crush skulls, burn people alive, and slice their throats with a pick-axe (I’m looking at you, Tomb Raider!!!), and every year, advances in graphics mean better and more photorealistic deaths (oh, and sometimes it means more realistic hair!).

What I am wondering is if we will see the day when we see maybe Mortal Kombat 42, and when they pull out a Fatality we will wonder if we were watching a videogame or a snuff video because it’s so realistic you can’t tell the difference.

And not just graphic fidelity, but about the strive to find more creative ways to kill characters… Combine the two and you’ll get yourself the gaming version of the videos Nick Cage watched in “8mm” (or worse).

By the way, if you take the time to read comments you’ll see some people are wondering (and even requesting) if you can kill minors in that certain game. Actually, it is a valid question to ask (albeit differently): will the quest of a bigger bang drive devs to allow us to kill minors (people of ages from 1 to 18 years)?

 

Bull* ‘they’re just games’ argument is bull*, like it or not.

At least I had the courtesy of censoring the word, even if I shouldn’t have because it’s just a blog post… Anyway, how about 2 or 3 micro-stories? I hope you have a strong stomach, because they are not very nice, but I’m writing them for a reason:

There was a girl who was taken to some abandoned house, and there she was raped, tortured and cut in pieces.

A group of people set up a camera in a room, then they brought a few babies and killed them in very gruesome ways and captured that on video.

A group of guys took a man and they twisted razor wire around his neck for a long time until the man died.

If you’re still with me, answer this: if the stories were fake, and just part of some movie or short film (or book, comic, whatever), would they be more acceptable than if they had happened in real life? In other words, is it ok to say “it’s just a short film” had they been fake?

The first story is from the movie “8mm” so I guess it’s ok to say “it’s just a movie.”

Some say the account on the second story really happened, but if it was fake it wouldn’t be any less offensive.

The third account is from a murder I read about some time ago.

I’m not saying “it’s not OK even if it’s a game, so it should be banned.” Personally I don’t like when violence in games is just used as a filler, but that’s my personal opinion and I have no right to impose my views on anyone else. That doesn’t mean I can’t say I find it gross or offensive.

Saying “it’s ok, they’re just games” is the equivalent to saying the stories above are ok as long as they are fake.

 

The real issue is not ranting about how ‘Hatred’ is too violent, too gross or too whatever. The real issue is that ‘Hatred’ is doing exactly the same thing other games have done in the past, but for some reason a lot of people react like they just realized evil exists in the world.

Let me put it this way: the best I read on youtube was “swap the black metal looking dude for a soldier and the civilians for evil terrorists and everyone will be praising the game.”

Lastly, Ieven if we have a variety of games (and we have had a variety of games for decades), it seems that “gaming” is only about “murder simulators” because that’s what the “real gaming experience” is about.

Having said all of this, I see no reason why ‘Hatred’ should not exist because similar games already exist in the market (some of them being critically acclaimed and such).

The gameplay that wasn’t there AKA should gameplay make sense?

•October 5, 2014 • 2 Comments

If you take a look at the few reviews in Enola (the good ones, that are actually worth reading, not the stupid one that reads DIS FEMINIST SHIT GAEM SUX, DE GRAFIX SUX” that’s currently the most voted one), many mention something I had already thought of: the gameplay needs improvement.

The biggest question on my mind all the time was if the “adventure/hidden object” mechanic was the best, if it would have been better to use a different set of mechanics, or even no mechanics at all and make the game purely an exploration game (what some call a walking simulator). In the past, I’ve shared my thoughts on Dear Esther and why I didn’t like the game. Simply put, for an exploration game it required too little exploration and too much “hold W key.” I considered making Enola an exploration game but I knew I wouldn’t be able to make some compelling exploration. Besides, Enola has a big problem: the story is massive, so it would have been difficult to deliver it solely on exploration and hope people would find all the information to understand the story (don’t pay attention and you won’t understand many things).

At the end, my idea was to link gameplay to one of the characters, and turn many puzzles into “death traps” because one of the characters “is good at building things” and uses those things to kill you. The idea sounded good on paper, but after finishing the game I’m still not sure if that was the best choice.

But then remembered a game called “Catherine” and that made me wonder if the gameplay part of a story-driven game should be related to the story in some way or not.I haven’t played Catherine (I plan to, as soon as I can) but while the story is about a guy cheating on his girlfriend, the gameplay is about solving cube-based-pyramid-puzzles, and there’s no explicit or physical relationship between the two. Note that speaking about “gameplay as a metaphor” is completely unrelated to this because I’m not talking about gameplay “meaning” something (Silent Hill) but gameplay directly presenting the story (insert generic shooter here).

After all, there’s no logical reason why you have to limit your gameplay to the kind of story you’re delivering, or limit your story because the gameplay doesn’t allow for something more complex.

Even if most expect games being about punching, shooting, hacking or slashing, there’s no logical reason to make a game with a story that only gives the protagonist a reason to punch, shoot, hack or slash.

Right now I know what story I’d like to tell next, and now I need to figure out what kind of gameplay to use, even if it “has nothing to do” with the story. This is not about “what else can games be?” but about “storytelling.”

Or I could simply make a game about one of them soldiers “saving the world.”

The scary horror game "that wasn’t really that scary"

•September 28, 2014 • 2 Comments

Enola is a weird game, and I have to be the first one to say that. I began working on this game with the idea of making a “scary horror game” but the more I worked on it the more it became a nice but bittersweet love story between two girls. Logical convention says this was completely wrong because, instead of making the scariest horror game I could make, it was turning out to be “less and less scary.” However, it makes a little more sense when you consider (why) my biggest influences were Silent Hill and (to a slightly lesser degree) Fatal Frame.

Silent Hill is all about dealing with the protagonist’s past and learning stuff, and while it has combat it is not about “scary stuff after scary stuff.” Fatal Frame is a little different, because it’s also very story-driven but the gameplay makes it extremely scary. Silent Hill ends when you make the protagonist face whatever issues he/she has, but with bittersweet results. The game doesn’t usually offer a “good conclusion” to the story, but rather a “not so bad” ending (the ending in Silent Hill 3 comes to mind). Fatal Frame is always about redemption, in one way or another, because you always try to put and end to a curse and help the spirit of the one causing it.

But “the rebirth of horror games” was all about bad endings and non-stop “scary stuff after scary stuff.” For good or ill, many times a horror game is about how much it makes you shake or jump. I think I could have done the same, but the final product would not have been what it is now. At least to me I think the game ended up being better because, depending on what ending you get, you find there’s light at the end of the tunnel.

I mean, IMO there’s enough material in Enola to make a “scary stuff after scary stuff” when you consider one of the main elements is related to how scary and evil humans can be. Since Enola is a psychological horror game, everything you see is a reflection of someone’s mind, so I could have gone 100% Silent Hill and use monsters to represent everything in the game. Implied sexual themes in Enola could even give me a free pass to pull out my own Pyramid Head-like scene, or come up with my own set of “pervert monsters going after you with obvious intentions.”

That would have brought the game a lot of over-critical-critics, because gaming-people usually question almost-any kind of sexual content in games but are perfectly OK with murder, mutilation and providing a gazillion (male) enemies to shoot because… fun…

But we are not here to talk about THAT, of course… so back to the subject…

Anyway, over-critical-critics were not really my concerns, and the reason why I didn’t pull out my “Pyramid Head-like-pervert-monsters going after you with obvious intentions” was because it was not compatible with the game I was trying to make: dealing with your loved one’s past and traumatic experiences, and showing there might be light at the end of the tunnel (if you happen to get the good ending, of course).

Considering the plot, there’s no logical reason why there would be monsters (meaning weird-looking things) trying to kill you or ripping your head off. From a gameplay perspective, it would be good, but no matter how it was presented, you end up with weird monsters trying to kill you because… reasons…

On the other hand, while adding the “monsters going after you…” relentlessly might have made the game scarier because they would keep players on their toes, I’m still not sure it would have been good because, at the end of the day, it is not the player character’s story, and it’s not about scaring the player character, but the girlfriend’s story and her struggles and fears.

I speak about “monsters” on this post, I specifically mean weird-looking-creatures-or-humans that are unpleasant to look at (deformed humans, human/animal hybrids, ghosts, nightmarish or pseudo-Lovecraftian creatures, and so on). Also, this doesn’t mean the playable character is never attacked. In fact, she is attacked a few times (by a non-weird-non-deformed human being), and it’s somewhat violent, but it’s not graphic or gory (she is punched, pulled, kicked, but she doesn’t get her head chopped off).

So, the game became “less and less scary” because it became more focused on the story about two girls, and less on being a game about “show scary stuff and MOAR scary stuff.” Was that the best choice? I think it was.

Besides, I can always try to make a more traditional horror game dealing with more trivial subjects that can be used for shock value, like murder, mutilation or shooting a gazillion (male) enemies. After all, nobody will complain if I just come up with a “Hostel-like” or “Hellraiser-like” videogame and use torture porn for shock value (and I think people would actually like it a lot).

If you are curious what this scary-but-not-so-scary game is about, you can get Enola on Steam.

The trials and tribulations of making a game about rape

•September 10, 2014 • 5 Comments

I read all the time about designers/developers/people trying to figure out ways to make the gaming medium move forward. Keep in mind that, as some guy from a poor third world country, “moving the medium forward” is not one of my interests.

If you’re like me, you’ve heard many times how stories “write themselves.” To me, there are two different kinds of stories: stories that are so easy to write that figuring out when to stop is the actual challenge, and stories that are impossible to write no matter how hard I try. What’s interesting about that is that the story I was thinking about is not always the story I end up writing.

Enola first came to be as a mini-game for a ludum dare game jam. The game was only 5 minutes long, but it had a few very specific story elements. After watching people play it on Youtube, and reading some comments about it, I realized pretty much nobody understood what it was about, since it was called abstract, atmospheric, weird, and so on.

I think that minigame was somewhat inspired by a movie called “An American Crime.” Not particularly amazing, but good. There’s also the fact the movie was inspired by true events (but unlike other “inspired by true events” movies, this one is).

And since nobody asked what it was about, I never explained it. The premise for that mini-game was pretty simple: It’s a story about two girls who’ve been captured by an omnipresent evil being. One escapes but the other one is left behind, so she decides to go back, and you wonder if the evil being is real or a product of someone else’s imagination. That’s a pretty simple premise, and is the premise I wanted to use to expand that minigame into a “full” experience.

But that didn’t quite work.

The original premise didn’t work out as I expected. Maybe I am not talented enough to expand that simple premise into something larger, or maybe the concept itself just sucked big time. I tried different things, and those who played the game during development know the story would change from version to version (I was releasing the game “in chunks.” Not the best idea, but it somewhat worked anyway…). Basically after more than 6 months, the story was going nowhere because it just didn’t work, even if the characters were already fully developed.

Then one day I knew something had happened to one of the two girls in the game. I explored that further and further, until I realized “something terrible had happened to her.” That’s where both character biographies actually made sense (I have the biography for the 2 girls).

Anyway, I don’t really know when the “the non-player main character was raped” idea came up. I do know it took me a while to really decide if that was the path to go, not because I was worried about the event itself but because “rape” has become such a bad word in the gaming industry (whether or not I agree to that idea is a completely different subject).

The idea itself didn’t contradict any of the basic ideas I had set for the game: no paranormal elements; no zombies; human-relatable horror based on real world experiences; a flesh-and-blood antagonist with no influence of magic, demonic possession, ghosts, whatever. It is not hard to come up with something based on that, considering the kind of world we live in.

So, even if the story was taking shape, and the premise worked pretty well, that doesn’t change the fact that the R word turns on extra neurons on the brain when it comes to analyzing things. There are some themes in games that are just taken granted and accepted without much questioning, but this one is not one of them (because, you know, going on a killing spree and shooting people left and right is totally ok nowadays). There’s also the fact that you always run into people arguing that this or that was just added for shock value. However, after thinking a lot if that was what the story was supposed to be, I just knew it was the way to go, and that it was done for a (story-related) reason.

Enola will be out in a week (unless something terrible happens). I am not going to lie and say “so far reaction has been pretty good!!!” Reactions from most those who’ve played it are generally good, but some have complained about the plot (some with good reasons, some without). We’ll see how it goes when it reaches a wider audience. I am mostly hoping two things:

First, I hope those who play it actually take the time to play it before saying anything about it. I remember someone sent me a 5-paragraph email complaining about the plot and how it was used for “shock value,” after playing only for 10 minutes and looking at some screenshots I had. I am sorry but that’s like people hating how Hotline Miami “glorified violence” after watching a 10 minute gameplay (keeping in mind that those 10 minutes of gameplay are the equivalent of maybe a fourth of a mission, since Hotline Miami is extremely hard).

Second, I obviously expect people will like the game, even if some parts of it (well, more like half of it) is very disturbing (considering some things cannot be sugar-coated no matter how hard you try). The game is not graphic and doesn’t have explicit sexual content (because I didn’t think it was needed), but it is somewhat violent.

And third (yes, I do the counting trick all the time), I’m hoping it will sell because there are many ideas that could be used to expand the story into a sequel, prequel, and things like that.

At this point I am thinking my life would have been a lot easier if I’d just made a sidescroller platformer (not that I have anything against those, by the way).

I still cannot explain why the game is about rape, because I don’t really know. As I said, some writers say “stories write themselves” and maybe that’s the case here. It’s not the best answer, but the only one I can give. I’m just trying (and failing) to answer the question people ask me after playing this game.

EDIT: this morning I was mentally reviewing this post and I realized that I wrote a lot about how the plot this and that, but I didn’t actually explain how the rape plays a role in the plot of the game, making it sound like “oh yeah, and she was raped, well, let’s move on.” Blame it on the lack of sleep and long crunch nights (since I am still hunting down bugs and errors). So I am adding these two paragraphs…

In the original minigame the girl had escaped but she decided to go back because she wanted to save the other girl, setting her free from “the evil being,” but she ends up trapped again. The idea is that she wanted to “save” her from something, going back to the root of the evil.

In this new, “full” version the playable character does pretty much the same. At first my idea was to follow the same “An american crime” concept where you save the other person from some sort of serial killer, or evil man. I was also very inspired by Silent Hill and how it deals with the inner feelings of the protagonists, shaping the world, and for a time it worked but the more I worked on the story the less many things made sense. So, again, it all was leading to what I’ve already said, and at the end the girl wasn’t saving the other girl from some sort of serial killer evil man, but from herself and her past, and the whole idea is to see if she can actually do it or not.

And that’s pretty much the concept now. It is very different to what I was trying to do. I don’t know if it’s good or bad, but to me it just makes sense, just like in other cases it makes sense to just grab a gun and kill a gazillion dudes, like in the latest Tomb Raider (by the way, I did like that Tomb Raider, even if I question the need to include a gazillion dudes to kill).

 

Remember you can keep up with the news on Facebook or Twitter, and also remember to buy the game on Steam next week!!!

So much to do, so little time… and Enola will release soon

•August 19, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Well, our goal is to release Enola this September so we are working around the clock to do it. There are many things that we still need to work on but luckily most of the work is done.

At this point it’s funny that I sometime get these ideas about “it would have been cool if we had done this or that.” I don’t know if this is normal, or if it’s me being way too perfectionist, trying to fine tune the smallest detail and not being entirely happy with the result.

Either way, it kinda sucks, heh.

Now I just wanted to share this little thing…

dress

And a couple of screenshots…

tower17_area5trap3

tower15_area5trap2

The Silo is a total nightmare

•August 5, 2014 • Leave a Comment

I think I said this once, but in case I didn’t: I designed the factory level to be hard. Really hard. The factory has a section in the second half, a silo made of hallways and elevators, and it’s some sort of a maze.

The main problem I saw is that you don’t have a map in Enola, so it would be somewhat easy to get lost in that level (to be honest, Enola is a game where you need to keep your eyes open all the time so you know where you are, because there are no maps).

silo_map

screen2

When trying to figure out a way to make navigation easier (meaning you won’t get lost easily), I thought maybe we could implement some sort of “areas” to it. So, for example an area would have big machines, while the other one would have smaller machines, and a different lighting, and so on. The level will still be difficult, but at least it will make it easier for players to know where they are.

The image above shows the silo and the colored hallways. I added the different hallways to different color-coded display layers in Maya, so I’d know what belongs where. I then developed a different “look” to each area.

Below you can see a few screens of what the hallways are looking like at the moment:

screen1

screen3

screen4

The hallways are very empty at the moment, but we will add little things here and there so they look and feel cooler.

See you next week!

 
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