Robert Hornbek

Game Development & Exploration

Posts Tagged ‘3D Gameplay’

The Island: First Look

Posted by rHornbek on January 5, 2012

An image pulled from the How to Play manual.

For those of you who would like to learn more about my boardgame The Island – formally titled Hill – please feel free to view or download the current rule sheet here —> How to Play The Island

Please keep in mind this document is a work in progress.  Many of the images are placeholder and the text is full of misspellings, grammatical errors and inconsistent terminology.

Needless to say, any and all feedback is welcome.  Cheers!


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Rainbow Sprinkles

Posted by rHornbek on September 4, 2010

Rainbow sprinkles are those colorful little pieces of candy that we shake on top of ice cream, cookies, cakes etc.  The reality is they don’t make anything taste better, but they do make the overall experience a lot more interesting!  Details like sprinkles can be all it takes to turn a good game into a great game.

Recently a video has been released, from PAX, of Portal 2’s cooperative mode.  This is the first time we get to see how the cooperative mode actually works.  In addition to various emotes that add color to the game I caught this silly little detail after one of the characters fell into the dreaded green goo.

If you look carefully you can see Blue's (the blue robot) thumb in the air as he goes down.

The developers did not have to do this, but clearly this little detail has made enough of an impact to motivate me to post about it.  Not that the game needed any more props, but it just goes to show you how simple little details can make an entire experience that much better.  You can view the entire video here…

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Breath of Fresh Air: Monday Night Combat pt2

Posted by rHornbek on August 18, 2010

The video below is the second parts of the Monday Night Combat Developer Walkthrough.  In this demonstration they present the second of two maps that are available when you purchase the game, and the Support class!

The Map

The first map they played on, GrenADEiii, was circular in shape, where LaserRazor, the second map, is mostly a rectangle.  It does not seem to play all that differently except it is much easier to move from each of the two lanes.  With that said, unlike DotA style games Monday Night Combat (MNC) only has two lanes.  I am curious how this will effect the gameplay, but I imagine it will make it much easier to switch lanes and thus push.


A key feature in the DotA style game are the turrets, or towers.  In MNC each user will earn money as they play which can be spent on building turrets for you base.  I absolutely love this idea, and to make matters more interesting you have the option between four different turrets.

The Support Class

I have only seen in detail the two classes highlighted in each of the walkthroughs, but I can confidently say I would love to play as the Support class!  They can best be described as a mix between the Medic and the Engineer from Team Fortress 2.  I really appreciate how much support they can actually deliver with air strikes, heals, buffs to the Fodder (minions) and the ability to hack turrets.

MNC appears to have a lot of promise, and as long as the balancing is tight I imagine it will be a ton of fun!  I will continue to keep my eye on it and pray that it makes it to the PC so we can play it at our next big LAN party!

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Breath of Fresh Air

Posted by rHornbek on August 5, 2010

While browsing Reddit today I came across two impressive looking games.

The first is called Monday Night Combat by Uber Entertainment, which I guess is a spoof on Friday Night Football, maybe?  The game clearly takes places in a very sporty setting, but with more guns and robots.  Many of the comments compare the game to a cross between DotA and Team Fortress 2… if you watch you can see why.

The concept and possibilities for this game excite me, so I will have to keep a solid eye on it.  When additional demos appear I plan on writing another article with a more in-depth look and criticism of the game.  I look forward to it!

The next game has no title, but looks fascinating!

If you didn’t figure it out yourself, the game has apparently been canceled.  Only the developers really know why, but it is a shame we may never see this game again.  Hopefully the video gets enough attention that Ubisoft might consider restarting its development.  My friend was the first to point out that this could all be a clever viral marketing ploy to generate interest for the game that is in fact not canceled… I guess we could only hope.

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Cell Shading in Naruto Shippuden: Untimate Ninja Storm 2 Part 1 Chapter 1 of 2010

Posted by rHornbek on July 30, 2010

Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm continues to impress me with a nearly flawless use of cell shaded art and animation, comparable only to Zone of the Enders: The Second Runner and The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker.  Absurdly long names aside, I may have to argue that Naruto Ship… NS:UNS… Ninja Storm may be THE best use of cell shaded art and animation to date.

Unfortunately the stunning cinematic quality of the game comes at the cost of gameplay.  Most of Ninja Storm’s action occurs during frantic cut scenes that are driven by timed button presses similar to that of Shenmue, Tomb Raider, Darksiders and that other game Wad or Door or something like that.

Zone of the Enders, but more so The Second Runner was the first to impress me with this sort of art style.  The game even had anime cut scenes woven in between just to add to the animated flavor.  While the game’s graphics are showing their age, there are a lot of qualities to cell shading that preserves well with time.

The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker still holds up today as some of the best cell shaded graphics I have ever seen.  In many ways the tools used to produce cell shaded graphics can really make a game look better than it would otherwise be on that system.  There was a lot of controversy over the art style when Wind Waker was first announced, but I am glad they did it anyways.

I hope to see more games execute the cell shaded style as well as Ninja Storm if not better.  That is not to say many games have not tried the style, but none come close to the quality of Ninja Storm.

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Game Experience: Update

Posted by rHornbek on June 23, 2010

Recently I added 2 new titles to my Game Experience page.  I found them both fascinating an inspirational for their designs, I’m sure you will be rather familiar with at least one of them!

I am lucky not to have been beaten senseless for taking so long to eventually play Portal, but honestly besides the hype I did not feel an urgency to play it.  However I really had no reason not to once Steam made it available to play for free.  And it should come as so surprise that I loved it and am glad I finally played it!

I must add that while most people praise the game for its creative gameplay, what I found most fascinating was the Aperture Laboratory setting and GLaDOS’ dialog.  Now I am looking forward to its sequel teased in the video below!

At first glance the browser game Transfermice does not seem all that interesting.  After playing it for even a few minutes you quickly learn the nature of the game and the nature of humans operating in a large unorganized group.  The object of the game is simple, get a piece of the cheese and return it to the mouse hole.  Of course in the flurry to achieve this everyone ends up killing one another or themselves.  This video should give you an idea what I am talking about…

Of course you really cannot understand Transfermice without playing it yourself, which I highly recommend.  I might add that in addition to dozens of player controlled mice there is always one Shaman during each challenge.  The Shaman has the power to conjure objects that are meant to aid in the objective.  However most Shamans abuse this power and typically use it to destroy the other mice and take the cheese for themselves.

While the game has many fascinating gameplay elements it was ultimately executed pretty poorly.  I had a concept for a game that played off of human nature and now feel I should revisit the idea after seeing how it was done in Transfermice.  I look forward to reporting on that in the future.

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Advent Rising

Posted by rHornbek on February 1, 2010

When I first heard about the development of this game I was excited.  Later when I learned that Orson Scott Card, the writer for such beloved novels as the Ender’s series,  was going to be working on the project as well my mind was blown.

Advent Rising is an action adventure game set in the distant future where humans have been all alone in the universe, so they thought.  On a single momentous day a massive alien ship arrives to inform the humans that they are not alone in the universe and have been considered an extinct species for thousands of years.  Despite the excitement of first contact, the humans quickly learn that there is a second race of beings who have followed the first with aims to destroy every last human.

Our hero Gideon, a pilot and the younger brother of a war hero learns that he is humanities last hope for survival.  He gets cool weapons, alien allies and psychic powers!  What more could a science fiction lover ask for?!

Gideon (Left) confronts the foe, the Seekers (Left & Background)

Unfortunately like many highly anticipated games, Advent Rising fell a bit short.  While Orson Scott Card’s skill for writing was apparent and Glyphix’ art team did a pretty stellar job the game fell short when it came to overall polish.  Gameplay was a bit clunky at times or even uninteresting because psychic powers eventually made guns nearly pointless.  There was even a lot of hype about how the user’s decisions in the game would greatly effect the outcome of the game, and they did to a degree but nothing that was all important as far as I was concerned.

The game was planned to become a trilogy so it left the user with a bit of a cliffhanger and while most of the conflict was resolved you knew there were much bigger fish to fry.  In the end the game was not received all that well from the community so it was scrapped.  A few fan groups have continued the series through a comic series which I have not seem much of, but looked interesting.

Seeker CG model turnaround

I would still have to recommend this game to anyone who is looking for a quick fix, not to mention you can download it off of Steam.  Advent Rising has some of my favorite alien designs, the Seekers along (above) are by far one of my favorite species from any fiction.  The nearly seamless way the developers connected in-game events with cut-scenes were wonderful and generated a wonderful sense of adventure, which I feel too many games are lacking these days.  The writing and dialog, while not the best, was really impressive for a game.

I would love to see Orson Scott Card write for another game, or even work with the man myself.  This little diamond may remain in the rough, but it is still a diamond as far as I am concerned.

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3D Dot Game Heroes

Posted by rHornbek on October 23, 2009

While browsing I came across a very interesting game called 3D Dot Game Heroes by From Software.  It wasn’t the gameplay or the story that caught my eye but rather the fascinating graphic style.  The entire three dimensional world is made up tiny different  colored cubes similar to Legos.

3D Dot Game Heroes 02

In-game graphics for 3D Dot Game Heroes.

It would appear that they are trying to replicate the classic 2D pixel style in a fully 3D world.  What gives this game character is the use of focus blurring simulating a real camera and not just a graphics engine, in addition to shadows that look like they would be cast from the real Sun.

3D Dot Game Heroes

More in-game graphics for 3D Dot Game Heroes.

I have seen and played the Lego games, and yet 3D Dot Game Heroes’ graphic style blows my mind.  I will have to keep my eye on it and see where it goes.  You can see the game’s trailer here!

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Gameplay Perspective

Posted by rHornbek on October 16, 2009

Recently I have had an explosion of creativity that has both excited me and even brought a few game design challenges to my attention.  For many of the game concepts I have worked on recently, gameplay perspective was not the first thing worked out.

In one of the concepts two teams of three to five users compete in various scenarios such as capture the flag, king of the hill, territories etc.  Arguably a pretty standard competitive multiplayer format for the most part.  The driving concept for this game however, was for each character to find and wear a unique tribal mask thus granting them a set of powers.  As the battle progressed the power of the masks would diminish and the user would have to obtain more energy or a new mask.

After much thought, I was excited about the general themes and mask mechanics.  But when I began thinking about the perspective in which the game would be played, I was torn.  Originally I was trying to design a competitive multiplayer game set in a two dimensional environment.  With the team sizes, the scenario types and even some of the effects that the masks granted, I was unsure if a 2D environment would be the best perspective.

This mind numbing battle grew into an even greater interest in stepping back and looking at many of the existing gameplay perspectives and really defining the pros and cons for each.  All designers have to at one point decide whether or not their game will have a locked camera or be third person instead of first person.  I felt there would be value it focusing entirely on what those gameplay perspective differences are and listing them out here.


The side scrolling perspective is exactly how it sounds.  The user views the character from the side and scrolls as the character progresses throughout the stage.  This perspective is commonplace for titles with 2D gameplay and is found in most of the earliest action oriented platform games.  This includes games like Contra, Sonic the Hedgehog, Metal Slug and Donkey Kong Country to name a few.

Green Hill Zone

Sonic the Hedgehog: Green Hill Zone


For the most part this perspective is a must for titles with 2D gameplay.  It gives the users a fair view of the area surround the character so they can avoid threats and make educated decisions when moving or attacking.  The 2D side scrolling perspective was the birthplace of the modern platforming game, which unless done in full 3D gameplay is very difficult otherwise.


Despite the 360 degree view, this perspective can have its own limitations.  The users cannot see the full distance in front, behind, below or above their character, even if they are facing that way.  Some games have made improvements on this by allowing the user to shift their view slightly up or down when the directional pad his held in that direction.  In the 2D shooter Einhander most of the game’s graphics are rendered in 3D and the user’s perspective is shifted slightly to the back of the character allowing them to see a little further ahead.  Because these games are played out on a flat surface the more objects you have on the screen the less mobility your character can have, especially if they are bound by physics.  This became an issue when I was thinking about the competitive multiplayer game where there could be up to 10 characters all on the screen at once.  If collision restricted characters from passing through each other there could be all sorts of gridlock.  Where if there was no character collision, groups could all just stack on top of one another and the users would have a harder time keeping track of what was going on.


Like the side scrolling perspective, the top down view has many of the same attributes but instead of facing the character and the action from the side the user views them from directly above.  Surprise!  To be clear, when I refer to a top down perspective I mean it in the most explicit way.  Frogger, Centipede, Galaga and the original Grand Theft Auto game all fit into this category.  This perspective is not as common in the modern age of 3D graphics, but it still has a name.

Grand Theft Auto

Grand Theft Auto


Because of the similarities that top down perspectives have with side scrolling games they have most of the same benefits, such as the 360 degree view.  For many of the classic shooting games like Galaga, Centipede and of course Space Invaders this perspective was a great way to portray incoming enemies.  Ever closer the enemies would come as they ascend from the top of the screen until they were destroyed or melted the character’s face.  Of course to achieve this the user’s character was shifter to the bottom of the screen where it could only move left and right, and in rare cases the character could move slightly forward and back.


Honestly I think there is good reason why most top down games are shooters and that’s because anything else will restricted in gameplay options.  Unlike the side scrolling perspective, a top down view did little for platform puzzles and physics were slim to none.  Lets also be honest, most things are pretty boring viewed from the top, so the environments themselves would be lacking.  Some games made improvements on this by skewing the character and environmental assets a little so the user could view them in a sort of forced perspective.  Examples of this are the original Zelda and Bomberman.  So unless you are looking down on the iconic silhouette of a space craft or other vehicle, the top down view is not the best choice for a lot of games.


The isometric view, for the most part, was the next stage for the top down view.  It shifted the user’s perspective to a roughly 45 degree angle of the character, as if you were looking down at them from the second story of a building.  Games like Diablo, StarCraft, and SimCity all utilized this perspective.

SimCity 4

SimCity 4


There is a very thin line between a top down view with forced perspective and the isometric view.  Where the isometric perspective excels is in graphics and gameplay.  Now with a greater sense of 3D space there can be varying surface altitudes and objects that obstruct things behind them.  Overall this gives the user a much better view of the characters and environments making it ideal for many real time strategy games.


As mentioned above, objects can get lost behind taller objects in the environment.  Some games have fixed this issue by never allowing objects that were too high to exist in the foreground or by allowing the user to rotate the view by increments of 90 degrees or freely left or right.  In modern titles when characters pass behind objects they can still be seen as a silhouette, this is called occlusion shadows or sometimes just occlusion.


The free camera allows the user to freely move their view to areas of the game that may not even contain the characters or focus of action.  This is most common in modern real time strategy games like Ground Control, Total War and World in Conflict.

World in Conflict

World in Conflict


This perspective grants the user the most information out of any of the others, which is probably why it is most commonly used in RTS games.  You can zoom in on the action, rotate to see it from different angles and zoom out to see a greater picture.


Free camera perspectives add a helpful layer options for the user when choosing their view, but this can also add an additional layer of complexity.  Aside from managing a character, or many characters in an RTS, the user will also have to manage the camera.  Most games improve on this challenge by allowing the user to lock the camera to specific targets and quickly lock to others without the need of panning.


The preset camera perspective is what some may call the director’s perspective.  This is when the camera is placed in a single position overlooking an area of the game where the character resides.  The camera never deviates except for a slight tilt or pan when the character moves.  This perspective is common to the original Resident Evil games and many of the modern action games like God of War, Ninja Gaiden and Bayonetta.

god of war

God of War


Because of the premeditated placement of the camera the developers can create well planned scenes and settings.  Because the developer always knows where the user will be looking they can build the stage and gameplay with greater precision.  This can also keep asset costs down seeing how most of the environment only needs to have a few visible sides.  This “director’s view” has also allowed games like God of War to have highly cinematic combat where simple zooms and movement of the camera can change the entire mood of the scene.


Like with side scrolling games, when the perspective is limited the user can have trouble seeing things that their character might have no problem seeing.  The user can have trouble when there is an enemy attacking from behind an object and they cannot see it.  An even more common problem is when the character leaves the area completely changing the perspective of the camera.  Based on the angle of the camera, the character’s motion can be altered because the user was controlling them based on a prior perspective.  Developers have made a lot of improvements on this issue, but games like the original Resident Evil are a testament to these flaws.


The third person perspective puts the user’s view directly behind their character so they see everything that the character does.  Games like the modern Dead Space, Brutal Legend and Zone of the Enders all use this perspective with slight differences.

Zelda Wind Waker

Zelda Wind Waker


The great thing about the third person perspective is that it allows the user to see exactly what the character can see in addition to the immediate area around them.  This is great for action and adventures games and has become a standard for modern 3D platform games.  Of course getting to see your character up close and personal gives the users a greater appreciation for them and the work the artists have put into them.


The first flaw I think of when considering this perspective is how the user can sometimes miss things that are directly in front of the character.  In this case the character itself manages to obstruct the view of the user.  While this isn’t a massively difficult issue to overcome it can be troublesome in third person shooter games like Dead Space.


The first person perspective places the user directly into the eyes of the character.  Clearly games like Wolfenstien, Doom, Half-Life, Halo and all of the games based off of them utilize this perspective.




Of course the games that gain the most benefit from this perspective are shooters, allowing the user to make very specific shots from right down the crosshairs.  The user can turn their view in all directions allowing them to see everything around them, this makes exploration pretty easy.  Because the user is so close to the action they can emotionally become closer to the point where they are fearful for themselves and thus the character.


As much as the user can look around and see, the one thing they are unable to fully comprehend is what is happening to their character that isn’t directly in front of them.  Most games have improved on this issue by adding blinking icons around the screen that tell the user they are being hit.  This also doesn’t allow the user to enjoy any customization they may have made on their character’s appearance.


I would argue that mostly every possible perspective has been utilized in one way or another and none are perfect.  What will make the difference in the end is what sort of gameplay experience the developer wishes to achieve.  Sometimes limiting what the user can see can make things more interesting.  Where other times you cannot show the user enough and a mini-map will have to be added.  Keep in mind that the pros and cons that I have listed above are general and vary from game to game.  As for my magical mask wielding concept, I will have to see where the idea takes me before I can confidently decide which perspective would be best.

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Posted by rHornbek on October 3, 2009

Today I drove down to Culver City to the famous Culver Hotel where all of the Munchkins, from The Wizard of Oz, were housed during the shooting of the film.  This is where I picked up my $20 day pass which was literally a little blue sticker that I stuck on my shirt.  Besides some paperback loot there wasn’t a whole lot to do there, so my friend Simon and I headed over to the first gallery.

IndieCade Ad

IndieCade event flier.

The first thing I noticed when we entered the Wonderful World Gallery was the complete vacancy of the room.  Between the eight or so computers that were set up, each with a unique game, only one person was actually playing.  What was more disturbing was the fact that none of the game’s developers were there to present their work.

The first game Simon and I played was a simple side scroller called Spectre.  This is indeed how they spelled it, could be the old English spelling, does it matter?  It was a simple game, you move the character around a house passing through memories that would transport you to other rooms.  In these other rooms a monotone voice would begin speaking, telling you a little story about the character that was relevant to the room.  It was dark and what appeared to be mini-games in each of these rooms were really not much more than unfulfilling tasks.

We quickly moved onto another game called Akrasia where you control a little amoeba  like character around a oddly shaped maze.  We learned that you could consume little floating objects around the stage, but they did not appear to do anything.  We soon found that there was a second creature roaming around in the maze with us, a ghost looking thing.  When we approached it it would begin to run away, so logically we chased it.  When we finally caught it it turned into a dragon and began chasing us.  Long story short we found an exit door that appeared after touching the ghost for the first time and the stage was complete.  Enjoyable in its simplicity, but not super engaging, so we moved on.



The next game we found, if you can even call it that, was called Gray.  You where a little stick figure who wanted to run left while dozens of other stick figures are trying to run the the right.  Simon and I figured, seeing how the other stick figures would push us back, that we had to get all the way to the left of the scree to win… so we did… and nothing happened.  I would consider myself a pretty open minded guy, but up to this point it has been mostly confusion and disappointment which leads me to this…

Invest some time in a tutorial or learn how to convey objectives to your user.  Otherwise most people are going to get board and move on.  This is just what we did.

At the other end of the room we found what looked like an art and animation major’s project.  A grim room with eight or so black and red clad girls sat there idly on the screen.  We learned quick that we could mouse over each of the girls to see their name and have a ghostly image of them faintly appear over the screen.  I was greatly impresses up to this point.  We selected Ruby and immediately transitioned to what looking like a dirt road in central park.  In big stylized font the title The Path appeared, this was indeed the name of the game.  My friend Simon pointed out that this was a game about Little Red Riding Hood and while I had not noticed it up to that point it made sense.  The game warned us to “Not Leave the Path” and we made sure not to… for about 60 seconds.  I kid you not, we walked about 30 feet off the path  and got completely lost.  I found this utter failure to be somewhat entertaining, seeing how we clearly disobeyed a simple warning.  It got me thinking about human nature for one and how this could make for an interesting premise in a game like Don’t Shoot the Puppy.  We decided to restart the game and see if we couldn’t finish the path and actually find grandma’s house and the big bad wolf.  Long story short we found the house – dark – then we found grandma – looked dead – and even the wolf who was stuffed in a corner – over it.


The Path

I was not so sure what was so wonderful about the Wonderful World Gallery, but we were hoping that the Greg Fleishman Gallery would be better… and it was!

But not by much.

There was only three machines set up there and only two were working.  I mean really did any of the developers care what people thought about their babies, or were they all just a bunch of bastard children abandoned at an amusement park?

Despite the quantity of games the Greg Fleishman Gallery had a good and a great game set up to play.  Tuning was a simple maze game where you have to roll a ball into a hole at the end without falling off the stage.  What made it interesting was how each stage looked and functioned.  One stage was blown out like a fish eyed lens where objects in the middle appeared larger than the ones around the outside.  As you rolled the ball the lens would magnify new areas of the stage which was sort of fun.  Another stage would actually change shape as you moved the ball.  Moving it right would change it one way and moving to the left would be another.

Looking at our map, Simon and I learned that we had missed some games back at the Culver Hotel, so we made our way back there.  To our surprise we found a couple of fun and interesting games.

One was called Cogs where the user moves panels on a rotatable cube trying to connect all of the cogs.  Once all of the cogs were properly connected it would complete and activate the machine.  Overall this was pretty cool and executed rather well.



Another game, Mightier, allowed users to drawn images on a piece of paper on their table and scan it real time into the game using a camera.  The images could be used to create your character and alter the stages to complete them. Simon in particular likes this game because he has always been an illustrator at heart.

The one game that truly blew us away was Minor Battle.  It was a simple 2D side-scrolling game where each team of two controlled a warrior with the objective of destroying the other team’s castle.  You did this by finding a bomb on the stage, running it to the enemy castle and throwing it.  What made this game so exciting was that it was played on four flat screen monitors that were set on a pillar each facing in one of four directions.  As your characters moved to the left or right off one screen they would appear on the next and we quickly found ourself running around the pillar in circles to keep up.  I have to hand it to these guys, they made a simple game a dozen times more interesting and interactive.

My favorite game of the day had to have been Aether.  You play as a little boy who befriends a big squid beast.  You ride the squid around using its tongue to swing from clouds generating enough velocity to leave the planets atmosphere and gravitational pull.  You could then zoom through space to find other worlds each with their own puzzles to solve.  This was the only game I played to completion the entire day, and I am glad I did.  It has been incredibly inspiring and really fun!


The monochromatic world of Aether.

I was expecting a lot more from IndieCade but I was not surprised with what I had found.  The $20 day pass felt completely unnecessary seeing how there wasn’t a soul at the galleries to check entry.  Out of the 12 or so games only a few were noteworthy.  Would I go again next year?  Most likely I will, and I just might bring my own game and make sure to be available for those who want to play it and ask questions.

In the meantime I will work on improving my blog post’s format and overall language.  Thanks for putting up with the noob!

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