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Decrying the Excessive Emulation of Reality In Games 187

Posted by Soulskill
from the plumbers-with-shrooms dept.
An editorial at GameSetWatch makes the case that game developers' relentless drive to make games more real has led to missed opportunities for creating unique fictional universes that are perhaps more interesting than our own. Quoting: "Remember when the norm for a video game was a blue hedgehog that ran fast and collected rings and emeralds? Or a plumber that took mushrooms to become large, and grabbed a flower to throw fireballs? In reality they do none of those things, but in the name of a game, they make sense, inspire wonder, and create a new universe. ... We’ve seen time and time again that the closer you try to emulate reality, the more the 'game' aspects begin to stick out. Invisible walls in Final Fantasy, or grenades spawning at your feet when you go the wrong way in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 are examples of kicking the player out of that illusion of reality, and letting them know that yes, this is a game, and yes, the rules are designed to keep you in the space of this world, not the real world. In reality, as a soldier I could disobey my orders and go exploring around the other side. I could be cowardly and turn back to base. Games shouldn’t have to plan for every eventuality, of course, but it’s not so hard to create universes that are compelling but where the unusual, or even simple backtracking, is not so unfeasible."
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Decrying the Excessive Emulation of Reality In Games

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  • yes, but (Score:5, Insightful)

    by roman_mir (125474) on Tuesday March 30, 2010 @05:16AM (#31668178) Homepage Journal

    Yes, but creating an alternative appealing universe experience takes imagination, ingenuity, creativity, sometimes requires radical approach to ideas and expects thinking outside of the box.

    Doing any of that increases the risk that the outcome will not be popular enough and will not succeed in terms of sales, this is serious business and money we are talking about here, what do you think this is, a game?

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by pinkushun (1467193)

      In that same vein, imagination, ingenuity and creativity builds with practice, and exposing ourselves to those venues of thought. If we don't, we become robotic consumers sucking on whatever 'the market' says is the shit, leaving all the creative niceties to those higher beings. No way, everybody can, and should be creative! Too bad the two most universal human traits are fear, and laziness.

    • Re:yes, but (Score:5, Interesting)

      by pandrijeczko (588093) on Tuesday March 30, 2010 @05:27AM (#31668226)

      The issue with computer gaming today is that it needs a business model that sits halfway between commercial games companies and those who contribute to game-related projects freely.

      The game companies are only interested in quick high-volumes sales within the first couple of weeks of a games launch...

      Game programmers who write mods and levels often start off with great ideas but so few mods get fully finished, due mainly to under-estimation of the free time and resource that will ultimately be needed to complete the project...

      The compromise would be for games companies to be more supportive of mod programmers and allow them to sell their mods at low cost whilst taking a cut themselves - maybe even sell third-party mods on their web sites. Hopefully, the remuneration that the games programmers would receive would be encouragement to complete more projects.

      Of course, it will never happen in the real world because greedy games companies will see this as extending the shelf-life of games and won't want gamers buying mods instead of new games...

      • by westlake (615356)

        Hopefully, the remuneration that the games programmers would receive would be encouragement to complete more projects.

        You are still underestimating the time and resources needed to produce a professional quality mod:

        Story and script. Art design, Level design, Characters, props, and animation. Special effects. Music. Dialog and vocal performance...

        It won't be enough to simply re-cycle the existing game assets: putting your American officer in a Nazi uniform and calling it a day.

        Any significant departure fro

        • by tepples (727027)
          Ideally, there would be a library of Free music, props, and animated models ready to be clothed and given makeup, all under a suitable Creative Commons license, and there would be a Free speech synthesizer to let people create dialog and vocal performance more quickly.
        • Yep, takes a while. Most don't make it. A rare few do. Might I point out T2X: Shadows of the Metal Age [thief2x.com]?

          It's a Thief 2 mod, complete with its own story, dialog, textures and models, and even movies.

          Still, it's a pretty old game. Does anyone know of a similar effort for anything more recent?

      • Re:yes, but (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Pharmboy (216950) on Tuesday March 30, 2010 @07:51AM (#31669090) Journal

        Team Fortress Classic, Day of Defeat, and as someone pointed out, Counter Strike were originally done on the old HL engine.

        The newer Source engine was designed specifically for that, AND to produce lower cost games that might not be as polished as full titles, but worth the lower price (The Ship, Garry's Mod) as well as create interesting free games that are pure mods. Steam has been doing it, AND created a digital delivery system that has effective enough DRM that isn't as draconian as other systems. They get the majority of my gaming dollars because I can install on multiple computers (but play on one at a time), they autoinstall, they are a great value (hello, Orange Box?), and they *do* protect game makers ability to make a profit while still providing a reasonable price to the consumer.

        To me, Gabe has found a perfect balance between consumer and provider, and provides lots of free trials, lets you *give* extra games you get when you buy a package that has a game that you already own, etc. Plus I never install a CD to play, never worry about losing or scratching the CD, and they have great sales, from 10% to 75% off on a regular basis. Steam deserves to succeed, and I hope they continue to do so, because they treat the customer just as good as they do the creator of game content. It isn't perfect, but it is evolving, and doing so in a good way.

        • by tepples (727027)

          They get the majority of my gaming dollars because I can install on multiple computers (but play on one at a time)

          Limiting play to one computer at a time wouldn't be such a problem if more PC games had a mode for HTPCs. I don't want to have to buy four copies in case friends or family members visit and want to play.

          never worry about losing or scratching the CD

          True, but Steam users start to worry about hitting the 5 GB per month transfer cap that's common with satellite in USA, 3G in USA, or anything in Australia or New Zealand.

          • by Pharmboy (216950)

            Lots of Steam games *are* available as disks you install manually, then you update via steam and never have to insert the CD again. Counter Strike, Orange Box, HL2, etc. all are/were available on plastic wrapped in dead tree. I just bought Bioshock (killer game, particularly for $20), which I could have bought on disk. But granted, for those with limited bandwidth, the platform may not be as advantageous. For the majority of users globally, it is.

        • by DrXym (126579)
          protect game makers ability to make a profit while still providing a reasonable price to the consumer.

          I agree with most of what you said apart from that bit.

          Prices for new games on Steam are nothing short of a scam. A game that costs the RRP/MSRP on Steam can be had from a store typically for 30% less. For example Batman Arkham Asylum Game of the Year Edition is 49.99 on Steam, and 32.49 on Play.com - 35% less. Battlefield Bad Company 2 is 49.99 on Steam and 35.49 on Play.com - 30% less.

          That's even wi

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by nine-times (778537)

          Steam does a lot of things right, and Valve in general. In fact, Team Fortress 2 is a very good example of how "good graphics" and "realistic graphics" aren't necessarily the same thing. I don't think I've ever felt a game has earned my money so much as Portal has, Steam is basically DRM done right (as right as DRM can be done), and now they're bringing it all to OSX. I love these guys.

          Not to go too off topic, but here's a good interview [youtube.com] with Gabe Newell where he talks about his approach to development,

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by mcgrew (92797) *

        The issue with computer gaming today is that it needs a business model

        I disagree, what it needs is a complete and utter lack of a business model. It needs people who aren't making games to sell, but making games to play. We need the gaming equivalent of a bar band, whose musicians are talented and creative but have a daytime job to pay the bills, who do it because they love music. We need people who want a game you can't buy.

        We need the equivalent of Star Wreck: In the Pirkinning. That was one funny movie!

      • by amplt1337 (707922)

        The compromise would be for games companies to be more supportive of mod programmers and allow them to sell their mods at low cost whilst taking a cut themselves - maybe even sell third-party mods on their web sites. Hopefully, the remuneration that the games programmers would receive would be encouragement to complete more projects.

        Of course, it will never happen in the real world because greedy games companies will see this as extending the shelf-life of games and won't want gamers buying mods instead of new games...

        It really depends on the genre you're playing. Strategy games in particular (I'm thinking EU, the Civ series, & the like) have tended to be very modder-friendly. Why? Precisely because it extends the games' shelf life. It makes you love the manufacturer's products and it means a longer tail in sales, all for work that's being done for free from people who really love the game. As for centralizing mod repositories -- this is actually even in consideration for Civ V, with in-game access to Firaxis-ho

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by KDR_11k (778916)

      Doing what everyone else is doing isn't exactly low on risk because you're going up against very strong competition and for most companies that competition will beat them (e.g. releasing your FPS alongside a Modern Warfare game). Very few companies are capable of beating that competition and even then there's the risk that you did something in the process wrong and your big expensive (because you cannot go against that competition on a limited budget) game flops. Doing what nobody else is doing is actually

    • by smash (1351)

      not a heap. my gf is living proof that soem shitty one-button game (iphone touch screen to turn/jump games) can sell just fine if they're cutsey and aimed at the non-hardcore mobile gamer market.

      Besides, if i wanted to play reality, i'd go outside.

      • Going to jail for doing a Grand Theft Auto is kind of a letdown, is it?

        In fact, you go to jail for simply driving too fast.

        There's only one thing you can do outside that's really lightyears above the its simulated or filmed equivalent. And you still need to wear a rubber, though.

  • Desert Bus (Score:2, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward

    The perfect model of this concept is the game Desert Bus (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Desert_Bus#Desert_Bus). The wikipedia article doesn't focus on it much, but my impression was that the point of this game was to illustrate how realism and fun are not always aligned.

  • by BenevolentP (1220914) on Tuesday March 30, 2010 @05:24AM (#31668210)

    Uhm, what? The article summary starts with "too realistic" then suddenly turns to "not realistic enough" in terms of open-world gameplay. I dont really get the point, if there is one.

    Im pretty happy not every game is a sandbox game, which mostly try to do everything but do everything mediocre (GTA, Oblivion etc).

    BTW, nothing in doom kept me from staying cowardly in the first room of e1m1, not moving, shivering.

    All with real world consequences if i choose so (boredom and starvation).

    • by SharpFang (651121) on Tuesday March 30, 2010 @05:44AM (#31668306) Homepage Journal

      The problem is suspension of belief in "not realistic" allows for much more liberties about player's freedom than in "too realistic". If you know falling through the bottom of the level kills you in Mario, you're okay with it. Don't cross the bottom line of the screen, fine. If you make an awesome swing on grappling hook in Nexuiz and the invisible "bottom of the world" kills you mid-swing, you get angry.

    • by zacronos (937891) on Tuesday March 30, 2010 @07:33AM (#31668922)
      I see it as a little like the idea of an uncanny valley [wikipedia.org] for games. If it's fictional enough, we don't care about whether it accurately matches reality -- it's more of an abstract game with a veneer of reality over it (i.e. we don't care that a mushroom really shouldn't make someone double in height, because underneath we know the mushroom is just an arbitrary visual label for a certain abstract powerup). On the other hand, once it passes a certain threshold of realism such that the mechanics seem to be intended to resemble reality rather than being abstract and arbitrary, then the fact that it isn't totally realistic bothers us -- it's a game that resembles reality in many important ways, but which falls short of what we expect reality to allow in many other important ways.

      Being able to move forward but not back doesn't really bother us in Super Mario Brothers, but not being able to retreat in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 seems like an extremely artificial restriction in the context of a (somewhat) realistic game. (Disclaimer, I've never played CoD:MW2, I'm just inferring from the summary.)
  • It's actually extremely hard to create such universes. No one has ever made one, as we speak. Not only there are hardware limitations (for example, a HL2 level takes almost all of 1 GB), but there are also software limitations. In order, for example, to have a successful "return-back-to-base" scenario, the programmers should encode a yet unseen AI into the program that turns the game into a war drama, instead of a fighting game.

    • by Petrushka (815171)

      It's actually extremely hard to create such universes. No one has ever made one, as we speak. Not only there are hardware limitations (for example, a HL2 level takes almost all of 1 GB), but there are also software limitations.

      I just came here after playing some Morrowind. That takes a lot less than 1 GB. Even heavily modded to make it look visually stunning it takes less than 1 GB.

      Now, sure, there are serious immersion-breaking AI limitations, gameplay irritations, it's got olde-style graphics, and the art design isn't to everyone's taste. But I still find it a hell of a lot more immersive than any game published since that I can think of. No invisible walls; no unopenable doors; no unkillable NPCs; lethal parts of the world are

      • by digitig (1056110)

        I just came here after playing some Morrowind. That takes a lot less than 1 GB. Even heavily modded to make it look visually stunning it takes less than 1 GB.

        Good to know I'm not the only one still playing that. Sure it has its limitations -- some of them down to technology that's 10 years old, some down to design issues -- but it's still the most immersive game I know, and the benchmark that other games should be trying to beat. Unfortunately, I don't think anybody know how they did it -- at least Bethesda seem not to, because Oblivion had better graphics but worse gameplay, and if it were quality of graphics I wanted then as somebody else pointed out I could w

    • by derinax (93566)

      Hard, yes, but not impossible. STALKER achieves most of this as an open-world shooter. You are free to turn back to base at any time. Hell, you are free to give it all up and just sell vodka to mercenaries, if that floats your boat. Sure, there are still "game" limitations, but relatively few of them compared to any invisible-path or rail shooter like CoD.

      It's a difficult game for the same reasons that it's a challenging open-world game. You could be jumped by various things at any time, and you often

  • by HopefulIntern (1759406) on Tuesday March 30, 2010 @05:47AM (#31668312)
    Personally, when I play a game like an FPS, I want realism. By that I mean good graphics, physics, sound, etc. Others argue that "graphics dont make a game good" etc. I agree that good graphics alone don't make a game good, but to me, they are an essential part. Playing Sonic the Hedgehog is different than an FPS. Nothing is meant to be real, so realism isn't an issue. But when I want realistic online warfare, I want just that, realism.

    Silly me, I actually got MW2 thinking it would be a realistic tactical shooter. I was deeply disappointed (especially since MW1 touched on it quite nicely). Dual-wielding sawn-off shotguns, firing grenades at a conflict area having only your team mates survive and the structures intact, submachineguns accurate to over a mile....It is more like a Die Hard film (where I am a bad guy..). And i got the game for PC, so I can't even trade it in.

    I love playing Bad Company 2. Although I struggle with it, I find it much more enjoyable. Graphics are decent (but not dazzling, I admit) but the sound is incredible; gunfire changes pitch/tone when heard from further away, the crack and hiss of a sniper shot that just missed your head...I actually get startled, my blood pumps, adrenaline rushes! The game is not without its faults, I have used a high powered sniper rifle and hit an opponent three times without going down (though this may be related to lag). Still, for those after realism, a much better game.
    • by drinkypoo (153816)

      submachineguns accurate to over a mile

      The P90's maximum effective range is 5905 ft. Modern submachine guns in "long"-barreled versions can hit a target at a mile. Now you know.

    • But when I want realistic online warfare, I want just that, realism.

      Like having to learn to walk? Or being killed in one hit and never being able to play again? Or being injured and ending up in a hospital for weeks or months, also unable to play? Technically, even "Start Over" is unrealistic.

    • by uncledrax (112438)

      You want realism and you're playing on Arcade mode servers? Switch to hardcore mode, and turn off all the HUD junk.

      The problem is everyone's opinion of 'realism' is different.. or rather, everyone's opinion of how to implement realism is.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Deus Ex

    • by Tapewolf (1639955) on Tuesday March 30, 2010 @06:19AM (#31668462)
      It's probably better than most, but if you've ever climbed out of the Catacombs Entrance area in Paris, you'll probably have discovered that the large tower you were airdropped onto has a trap at the bottom to make you explode, most likely to try and prevent the player surviving if they jumped off. Similarly, forget about exploring the ravine in the Vandenberg base (see also the "Vandenberg effect" on youtube).

      Frankly I tend to play medieval fantasy type games more because you have more of an excuse ("It's magic!"), but having said that I do kind of wish that DE's "Realistic" setting had gone for something more like "If you're shot, it will kill you". As opposed to... well, if you know what you're doing, you can blow yourself up just before the mission ends and start the next one as just a head with no limbs or body.

  • by SharpFang (651121) on Tuesday March 30, 2010 @05:50AM (#31668330) Homepage Journal

    There are few more immersion-shattering elements.

    So I plan: "This will be the right sniping spot. I will have them all right on the plate, and covered on their escape route too. The approach is covered, and the location provides decent cover behind these rocks. This should be easy then." Then - bump - invisible wall, border of the world. And I'm stuck with hopeless frontal attack which I barely survive.

    Recently, I began playing Planeshift and learned how to find the perfect spots for mining. Unfortunately some of them are just past the invisible wall, leaving only crumbles for the poor in the open area.

  • Old discussion (Score:3, Insightful)

    by vlokje (1703102) on Tuesday March 30, 2010 @05:51AM (#31668336)
    REALLY old discussion.. Similar comments could be read in game magazines when the Amiga was the hottest thing around (late 1980s). People new to gaming tend to prefer realism while long time gamers consider playability more important. Personally I still remember paradroid on the 64 and the amount of time I spend with it. Realism? Not really. Absorbing gameplay? Definitely.
  • Is it my line now? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Windwraith (932426)

    As game maker, I completely agree.
    Gamisms are a good thing while reality is usually a burden. Of course it has its place in simulators, and mild levels of realism can be interesting (for example in robots, which I like to articulate in intricate forms), but videogames...they allow us to throw wild levels of nonsense and make them work. Gamisms allow our character to take a fireball to the face or defying death with credits, blessings or potions. It's convenient unless you aim to do a faithful simulation of

    • by TheThiefMaster (992038) on Tuesday March 30, 2010 @07:06AM (#31668724)

      I don't get people sometimes.

      Take the game I worked on a little while back: "Vin Diesel: Wheelman". It wasn't a realistic game, it was a game designed like an action driving movie. Driving at impossible speed through a city, impossible jumps, impossible side-swipes, impossible cornering, cars exploding from being shot by a pistol, jumping out of a moving car, into another moving car, the works.

      And it gets points deducted in reviews for not being realistic enough. I can understand if they didn't like it, but at least complain about something it was trying to be.

    • Yeah, TFA reminds me of a discussion I've had more than once with a friend of mine. Whenever he and I disagree on whether something is good in a game (example: CoD 4's hardcore mode), he'll usually defend it on the basis of "it's more realistic". My point to him, every time, is so what? It's not fun, and the goal isn't to be realistic, it's to be fun.

      It would be extremely realistic if the game destroyed itself the first time you died, but people would be furious. No one actually wants a realistic game, alth

    • by Draek (916851)

      It's not just imagination, though: it also requires some degree of scientific knowledge to make your imagination believable enough.

      That's the difference, for instance, between Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri and Final Fantasy VIII in spite of both being equally fictional: once you make a few concessions the SMAC world is relatively coherent and believable, whereas few over the age of 12 can play FF8 without asking why, in a world with modern weaponry such as sniper rifles and gatling guns, your character is a mo

  • In reality, as a soldier I could disobey my orders and go exploring around the other side. I could be cowardly and turn back to base.

    In fact, I can even start shooting my own teammates when they aren't looking just for fun!

  • Two Stories... (Score:4, Informative)

    by shoemakc (448730) on Tuesday March 30, 2010 @06:07AM (#31668400) Homepage

    ...posted two stories after the headline "Haptic Gaming Vest Simulates Punches, Shots, Stabbing". That's just funny. -Chris

  • by BlackBloq (702158) on Tuesday March 30, 2010 @06:29AM (#31668518)
    I was chatting with my kid and his friends (11-13) about video games. I was saying how I hated games where you have to shoot someone more than once/twice (I only play hardcore (reality mode) on Modern Warfare 2). I was specifically making fun of Halo and no skill gamers. One kid piped up "why would I want to have it all real! Real is no fun!". Kids play with a big smile and want the fantastic, myself I play with a serious scowl and try real hard to outdo my last games performance. In other words I don't play at games, I try hard at games. Real effort is better rooted in reality unless playing to addictions like gear collectors. We play to hone what we are as a species, like a kitten chasing a floating leaf to hone hunting skills. The gear collectors are driven not by fun but hours of collecting (See work!). PVP reminds me of kids because of the way it plays out in some arenas with taunting and all the silly talking however... I've seen adults freak the f out over PVP games because of how much work/hours they put into character development. To sum up, you can change where we play (in game environment) but not what we are (hunter gatherers).
    • by bigstrat2003 (1058574) * on Tuesday March 30, 2010 @07:29AM (#31668890)

      The kid is exactly right. I can go outside to get reality, what I want in a game is just enough realism to help my suspension of disbelief, but no more. If I found the reality fun, I'd be doing that, so I would never want a perfect emulation of reality in my game. I refused to play hardcore mode in CoD 4, because it simply sucked all the fun out of the game when you would instantly die and have no way of knowing where you got shot from.

      Oh, and for the record, it isn't "kids" that want a lack of realism. I'm 25, so while I couldn't be called old, I'm certainly not a kid any more either. In fact, until your post, I would've guessed that it was only kids that wanted such "realism" (quote marks used because even "realistic games" usually aren't realistic, including MW1 and 2), but that apparently isn't true either. I suppose it's foolish to try to draw age boundaries, people like what they like.

  • The key here is why Second Life is popular for journalist. How is that? is a very minor game, played by few people, that hype his number of accounts to pretend is big, still it get frontpage news often. Why is that? Is not that journalist are stupid, is that theres a type of people where the virtual reality is much more atractive than something abstract. The abstract shotter mean *nothing* to these people. A game played by 80 millions is ignored, by one played by 120.000 becuase the first one is abstra

  • Talk about emulating reality. The diamonds and emeralds are an ASCII relic, while the blue hedgehog is a CGA relic. We inherited these game artefacts because of our limitations in emulating reality. Give it time - the creativity will return, and when it does, it will probably be mind blowingly beautiful.
  • what is the guy complaining of afflicts fpses. in other gaming genres the opposite is true. extreme representation and simplification is done. like, in strategy games, for example medieval total war, a whole country, france, can be a single 'province', and you can attack and get all of iberia as a 'province', and then build 10 ships and go sail to levant and conquer jerusalem, syria, in one move. a lot of things are represented with 'points' and percentage modifiers rather than having any mechanic for them.

  • by joeszilagyi (635484) on Tuesday March 30, 2010 @08:31AM (#31669528)
    For all the griping about RPG elements missing from games and immersion and realism, not a single word about Bioware that I can see and only a passing reference to Rockstar's Grand Theft Auto Series. Really?

    GTA4: Liberty City is insanely big, open world, no invisible borders, and fairly realistic physics, except that you--and to a lesser degree other characters--can take a slightly higher beating than in real life and survive. This is the closest you can get to "real", until Red Dead Redemption comes out.

    Bioware, Mass Effect 1/2: gold standard for RPGs. Runner up: Dragon Age. Your actions shape the story outcome, responses, and so on. Leveling shapes the nature and tone of your character in play and combat.
    • by grumbel (592662)

      GTA4: Liberty City is insanely big, open world, no invisible borders, ...

      Not quite, GTA4 lacks persistence. Vehicles might disappear when you look into the other direction and missions are completly inaccessible unless triggered by a cutscene. Its kind of a bummer when you shall kill some thugs, but you can't shot them from a distance, as they are not even there unless you get close enough and the script triggers inserts them into the gaming world. The GTA-kind of open world games are really just simple linear games that share the same huge level for each mission, but between mi

  • Remember when the norm for a video game was a blue hedgehog that ran fast and collected rings and emeralds?

    And now we have sexy blue Asari commandos quickly kicking ass and collecting names.

    Personally, I'd call that an improvement, but each to his own.

    My last five "big" games were Mass Effect 2, Assassin's Creed 2, Bioshock 2, Demon's Souls and Final Fantasy 13, so I'm not real clear on the whole "games are too realistic" concept. Dozens of alien races, 15th century Italy, a dying undersea city, a demon haunted world and cell powered Final Fantasy psychedelia- yeah, I can just walk out my door and see all that.

    M

  • What constitutes 'realism' in the first place? I remember being very impressed with the guard's walk-cycle animations on GoldenEye years ago, but I also feared that when I dropped a guard with a headshot, I might go over to him and find the wallet had fallen out of his pocket, to display the photo of his wife and kids and I'd never be able to play the game again.

    Do you want to be able to get forensic on the results of a sniper shot ("Look! Sinuses!")? Does having a car's brake discs glow red under heav

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