Room 12 Studios: Official game developer of games and other game-type things

Ecliptic

It’s been nearly a year since the first prototype of Ecliptic showed up on my phone and now, after a lot of work, a fair amount of luck, and an egregious amount of procrastinating, it’s live on the App Store.

The bulk of the development was handled by my cousin, Alex (who wrote up a nice little blog post about the app, as well). But, as with all Room 12 Studios projects, the whole project is a group effort. Between beta testing, hiring a real composer, and pushing each other to get stuff done (all while working full-time jobs and/or raising children), it was a pretty interesting experience.

But enough about the boring stuff, let’s talk about the game.

It’s not fancy. It’s not groundbreaking. It’s not even award-winning (except for the award for Best Game Currently Released by Room 12 Studios). But it is fun. It’s great for kids. And the music is pretty awesome. Plus, it’s free (as in beer). And if you like the app and want to support what we’re doing, you can buy the Theme Pack as an in-app purchase for the low, low price of <insert the cheapest paid value available on the App Store in whatever country your account is located>. The entire game is entirely playable without paying a dime, however. And there are no ads (unless you count links to our other apps, in which case, I’m a liar).

Speaking (sub-consciously typing) about our other apps, be sure and check out iPredict, as well, if you haven’t already. It’s a quirky little fortune teller with an attitude. It received an update today, as well, which added some beautiful new animation and support for 4-inch iPhones and retina iPads. Be sure to check it out.

(also comes in a Lite version, with 100% fewer calories)

So go, download Ecliptic, and tell us how awesome it is. Or don’t. But share it with your friends, anyway. Especially if any of them decide to take pity on us and keep us as pets. We’re really tired of working for a living.

Posted in iPhone/iPad, Video Games | Leave a comment

Clark Fork: The Endless River That Waters The Mouth of Hell

This weekend, we visited family up at Priest Lake (it was awesome, and if I make time, I’ll write more on it later).

Heading home on I-90, we kept driving over Clark Fork in the middle of the night. So often, in fact, that my wife started cursing the signs as an indicator that we were trapped in an endless loop of horror.

Our fears were confirmed this morning when we passed another Clark Fork sign and then, immediately after, a building that said Hellgate Fire Dept. Montana No. 502.

If anyone sees this message, please send help.

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Dust off that French Maid outfit, it’s time to play Tanto Cuore!

I’m not sure why—maybe it’s because it’s Friday the 13th; maybe the full moon has got the world’s blood up—but whatever the reason, several iOS app developers have decided to throw an impromptu sale on the App Store. This is good news for the rest of us, though, as some really great games are on sale for just a dollar each.

As you may have guessed from the title, one of the apps is none other than Felicia Day’s favorite card game, Tanto Cuore. In this game, you play as the master of a mansion and you collect maids. Or something. I really don’t know, because it seemed confusing and I was only half paying attention to the episode of Tabletop in which they played the game. But it looked like a pretty good deck-builder, so if you’re into that sort of thing and like anime French maids, then this game should be in your wheelhouse.

Continuing with the tabletop gaming theme, the Euro-style board game Agricola is also on sale. If you’re a fan of the game, this is an excellent adaptation into a digital form. If you’ve never played it before, the game has an excellent tutorial system to get you started while playing your first game. The entire goal of the game is to build your farm from a 2-room hut to the most profitable farm in Europe, saving countless starving villagers.

And at this point in my post, I’m realizing that most of the great games on sale today are all Playdek titles. The one I’m most excited to start playing is D&D Lords of Waterdeep. This game was also featured on an episode of Tabletop, and it’s an interesting take on the Dungeons & Dragons universe. Instead of controlling a group of heroes as they quest for gold & glory, you join a shadowy group of powerful men & women secretly controlling everything that goes on in the city of Waterdeep. It’s sort of like Monopoly but with more backstabbing and less parking.

And finally, the only non-Playdek title on my list is a Disney title. Now, I heard you groaning back there, but hear me out. It’s for Star Wars Journeys: The Phantom Menace. No, wait! Come back! Seriously, I know that the movie is not for humans everyone, but this is a far better way to experience the story than watching the movie. Most notably because George Lucas wasn’t involved. Plus, it has a podracing game! Anyway, check it out. It’s only a dollar. What do you have to lose? I mean, aside from your self-respect.

Okay, now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s continue on the sci-fi trend we’ve got going here. If you’re a fan of Star Trek and you enjoy strategy games, you’re going to love Star Command. Set out on a mission to save the galaxy and try your best not to lose any of your crew. But good luck, because space is dangerous and humans are fragile. Assign your crew to Command, Science, or Engineering teams and give them jobs. Firing your weapons is a minigame in and of itself, but watch out for invaders on your ship. And hope you don’t get a hull breach, or else anyone nearby will be lost forever.

Bringing it back full circle to the fantasy and tabletop gaming of the start of this post, Warhammer Quest is also on sale. To date, Warhammer Quest is still my favorite tabletop dungeon crawler and it seems unlikely that any game will ever supplant it. While the iOS game is not as great as the actual board game, it’s still pretty fun and provides a heck of a lot of value for just 99¢. Plus, there are several expansions that add all new heroes and environments to explore. Happy treasure hunting!

That’s the last of the $0.99 sale titles that I felt were worth sharing, but there is one more title you should check out, because it’s free. Ridge Racer Slipstream may be just another Ridge Racer title and is not even close to the best racing experience on the iPhone and iPad, but it’s still a fun arcade racer and you can’t beat the price. So pick it up while it’s free, at the very least.

So go buy games and have some fun this weekend. Besides, what else were you going to do with that six bucks?

Posted in Board Games, iPhone/iPad, Video Games | Leave a comment

No, you’re wrong; Nintendo should NOT exit the hardware business

With Nintendo reporting a loss of $456 million dollars last year, armchair-CEOs have once again begun clamoring for Nintendo to “get out of the hardware business” and start making games for iOS, Android, and PCs. I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating:

This is the wrong solution.

Nintendo is not Sega, the last great console-maker to exit the business and focus solely on software (something which has led to rather pronounced decline in the quality of games from their studios, though correlation or causation depends on the data, which remains scant). But, they do need to either create hardware capable of playing the games that “core” gamers want (such as Call of Duty, Assassin’s Creed, Elder Scrolls, etc.) with all the bells and whistles and fancy lighting and super-pixels or whatever, or else aim for mass-market appeal with devices that cost less monies, increasing the likelihood of families being interested in purchasing them for the home.

The Wii was a smash hit because it was cheaper than the competition and it provided a gameplay experience that was easy-to-learn and encouraged community (not in the online way that Xbox Live does, but in the actual face-to-face way). The Wii U is a step backward from that, thanks to its higher price tag and poorer selection of games. The Wii may not have had all the shooters and hardcore action games that the last-gen systems had, but it got pretty much everything else and massive numbers of other great games that embraced the physical nature of its control system (Boom Blox is a prime example of this).

Nintendo makes amazing games, it’s true, but what allows them to do so is the fact that they control the entire experience, just like Apple does with OS X and the Mac or iOS and the iPhone/iPad. But people don’t buy game systems the same way they buy computers and smartphones, and most casual gamers aren’t compelled to upgrade to the new system when the old one still works fine for everything they used it for (Wii Sports, Netflix, Virtual Console).

But putting their greatest assets (in this case: Mario, Link, Samus, and Kirby) onto other people’s platforms will reduce them to a shell of what they are now. You won’t see amazing games like Super Mario Galaxy on those systems, because Nintendo won’t have the advantage of developing the hardware and software in tandem to create new and unique gaming experiences.

What we want Nintendo to do and what Nintendo needs to do are not the same thing. I’d love to play Zelda on my iPhone, but not at the cost of the most influential gaming house the world has ever known. Instead, I want Nintendo to focus on creating affordable systems and valuable software. Let us buy Virtual Console games on the Wii U and play them on the 3DS (and vice-versa). Provide us the opportunity to purchase games once for all the systems we own (instead of requiring us to buy three copies of one game so that we can play it with our kids). Bring us new, big Mario and Zelda games every few years, but also give us more games like NES Remix that provide incredible gameplay at prices that scream “Value!”

If Nintendo can stop trying to retake the number one spot and instead focus on providing the best games at a price people are willing to pay, they’ll do well for themselves. But to throw all their control away to make a quick buck on iOS and Android is a fool’s errand.

In your future (“you” being the iOS/Android cage-rattlers), customers will clamor over every release of a classic title they loved to play until Nintendo runs out of classic titles. And they will run out of classic titles eventually, because they won’t be making another new title worthy of becoming a classic.

Posted in iPhone/iPad, Video Games | Tagged | Leave a comment

Get 100GB of online storage for only $1/year – No, really, only $1/year

IDrive is doing a special deal right now for 100GB (50GB for backup/50GB for sync) of storage for only $1/year. You can only get the subscription deal through the iPhone/iPad/Android app, but you should sign up through this link first to get an extra 1GB of storage for free. And according to IDrive reps, this is an on-going deal, not just a one-year special.

If you don’t already have an account, sign up here to make sure you get your free extra 1GB. Then, download and install the iOS app. Once you sign in, there’s a little banner at the bottom of the front page that takes you to a screen where you can tap “Upgrade to iDrive Pro 50GB ($0.99)”. It’ll prompt you for your iTunes password and a purchase confirmation.

To get the extra 50GB for sync, you just login to the website and turn it on. Plus, it lets you set your own encryption key if you want to make the data extra secure. Of course, if you do that, you can’t share files/folders with other people and if you lose the encryption key, your data is gone.

So go get your cloud storage on! That’s a thing the kids say these days, right?

Right?

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On Facebook and the Oculus Rift

So, if you haven’t heard yet, Facebook announced today the purchase agreement of Oculus VR, Inc., the company behind the Oculus Rift virtual reality headset. Many people are worried about what this means for the device, others are concerned (as always) with privacy issues, and still others are just puzzled as to why Facebook would want it in the first place.

I’m not terribly worried about Thing 1 and Thing 2, but that’s just me. I’m sure the Oculus Rift will still come out and be much the same device as we expect it to be now. As for privacy concerns, the Oculus Rift is designed heavily around gaming and a lot less around “3D Facebook”, so the data it can gather from users will be quite different (though some of it could be a pretty big deal) than what Facebook is typically after. Surely there will be data worth mining, especially if Facebook decides to try and take on Google in any aspects of its business again in the future. But, for the most part, tracking which games you play doesn’t provide nearly as much critical data as what websites you visit, what you buy, and who your friends are (and what websites they visit, etc.)

As for why Facebook would want the Oculus Rift, I find that a much simpler conundrum. I can think of three key reasons for Facebook’s desire to own the VR company.

  1. If Facebook owns Oculus Rift, Google doesn’t. It’s a no-brainer that Google would be interested in Oculus Rift. Their Glass project focuses on augmented reality rather than virtual reality, but there is still a great deal of overlap. Plus, since Oculus Rift is self-contained hardware designed for playing games and watching media in 3D, it appeals to a different subset of tech culture. A Glass-powered Oculus Rift would give Google all the same data that Facebook likely wants, but it could also be paired with an Android smartphone to give Google more access and ecosystem control. Facebook has more money than it needs and buying up a company simply to prevent Google makes business sense. Especially if Facebook already has an idea on what to do with Oculus Rift.
  2. Facebook is looking to a future without Facebook.com. No, Facebook’s social network isn’t going away, but it almost certainly could one day. MySpace was unstoppable until it wasn’t. Facebook could simply be trying to make sure that if and when that day comes, they’ve got additional revenue streams to keep things going. Wearable tech is shaping up to be a big part of the future and Facebook is trying to get in on the ground floor, rather than waiting until it’s too late to carve out a niche (like they did with the Facebook phone). By selling hardware that could be the definitive way to play games and watch movies in the future, Facebook is positioning itself to move away from social networking and to become an ecosystem of its own. Which brings me to…
  3. Facebook is starting its own gaming platform and network. Right now, if you ask a console gamer if they’re on Xbox Live or PSN, you can’t be certain of the answer you receive. But, if you ask a PC gamer if they’re on Steam, you almost always get a “Yes.” There are other alternatives to Steam out there, but none with the clout and popularity of Valve’s little digital store that could. Considering that Steam is making a play for the living room, Facebook could have seen the Oculus Rift as a way to get a foothold there, as well. Sure, they could just try to work side-by-side with Steam and other PC developers to make sure their hardware is the definitive virtual reality headset, but Facebook could also be planning to simply build their own Steam alternative. And why not? They already command the largest curated list of friends online. Their social platform has been used to effectively leverage mob tactics to generate a large amount of revenue for a number of web-based games. Imagine turning that power loose on Borderlands 3 or Grand Theft Auto Eleventy-Five. Steam has already integrated Facebook to make it easier for players to find their friends. But that requires players to link their Steam and Facebook accounts. Facebook could find all your friends instantly and tell them what games you’re playing lately.

Of course, there are major positives and negatives to Facebook’s acquisition of Oculus Rift. What looked like promising tech that could change the face of PC gaming might now become just another tool to harvest personal information. Major players may decide not to support it for fear of alienating gamers that don’t trust Facebook with their personal data. Sony now has a major opportunity, though. Project Morpheus will likely be a PS4 exclusive at release, but it will almost certainly find its way to PCs via third-party drivers. Sony could even release official drivers if they felt they could make enough money on the hardware to justify not controlling the profits from games (or to prevent Microsoft or someone else from doing the same).

I will be keeping an eye on Oculus Rift and the VR market, in general. Things in this space are just heating up.

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Free copy of “The Incredibles” with Disney’s new Movies Anywhere app

Right now, you can get a free copy of Pixar’s superhero-family flick The Incredibles just by downloading Disney’s Movies Anywhere app for iOS and linking it with your iTunes account. The app is free and, once synced with your iTunes account, lets you watch any of your purchased films, as well as loads of bonus content. Last night, I watched “Let It Go” from Frozen in 25 languages. There are also numerous behind-the-scenes and extended preview clips of Disney’s films, including a number of them for Marvel’s Avengers series.

Don’t have an iPhone or iPad? No worries. You can also access Movies Anywhere from a web browser. The deal remains the same. Sync with iTunes, get a free movie.

So go check it out. It’s free, it’s easy, and now you can have my favorite Pixar movie with you wherever you go without forking over a single, red cent.

Oh, and if you haven’t yet seen Frozen, go buy it on iTunes today. Honestly, it’s fantastic. If you are looking for strong female characters for your daughter or your own enjoyment, you won’t be disappointed.

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Return to Hyrule: An ardent journey to a familiarly unfamiliar place

Zelda-ALBW

Over the winter solstice holiday, I received a Nintendo 3DS XL bundled with The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds (thanks to my incredible wife), the latest offering in the Zelda franchise. While I have wanted a 3DS for some time, A Link Between Worlds became available at the perfect intersection of available funds and ultra-desirable game release. I have been a fan of the Zelda series ever since I first laid eyes on the initial game as a child, so I was very excited to play this game. However, I’ve been a little put off by the last two handheld entries into the franchise, simply because I was not as big a fan of the touch controls as I was of the classic controls of the past.

Thankfully, right out of the gate, Nintendo nailed the controls with A Link Between Worlds by basically reusing the same controls of A Link to the Past (which would make sense, since the game is actually a sequel to the Super Nintendo smash hit). But, it wasn’t just the spot-on controls and perfect execution of the 3-D in dungeons that made A Link Between Worlds so fantastic. There are two huge improvements to this game that make it stand out against so many other Zelda entries.

First of all, Nintendo was kind enough to avoid punishing players with sliding block puzzles as they so often have in previous Zelda games. Not once did I enter into a room that forced me to figure out how to slide a series of blocks just to get from one side of the room to the other. That doesn’t mean that I never had to push a block around to solve a puzzle, but I never had to wrack my brain trying to figure out which block to push in which order to prevent it being trapped against a wall or forcing me to exit the room just to reset and try again. I’ve done enough puzzles of that nature to last a lifetime, so I was quite thankful to be able to skip out on that, this time around.

Even more relieving, though, was the complete lack of a Shovel in this particular adventure. Don’t get me wrong, there is something very satisfying about digging up cool treasure in previous Zelda titles, but by eliminating the shovel entirely, I am never tempted to run around digging up every square foot of land in someone’s garden in the hopes of finding something cool. I can instead focus on throwing bombs at walls and dashing headlong into trees to find something cool. Which is something that really only works in video games. I mean, I can take my shovel into the neighbor’s yard and dig it up like crazy any time I want, but throwing a bomb at the cliff wall just outside of town is a surefire way to end up in a dungeon surrounded by angry moblins.

But, even had Nintendo subjected me to such OCD-feeding items as the Shovel and nerve-wracking torture-tests as pushing blocks until I wanted to scream, I still would have ranked this game among the best games I’ve ever played. I can say with absolute certainty that this the best gameplay ever offered by a “classic” Zelda title—in this case, “classic” refers to the top-down camera angle from the earliest Zelda titles (except for Zelda II, which was its own beast, and was awesome for a whole different slew of reasons). Is it the best story? No. That honor is still reserved for Link’s Awakening, which also has the best music, as well. But it’s certainly the most fun.

And on the subject of the story, A Link Between Worlds is no slouch. Using similar techniques to A Link to the Past (psychic messages from a sage and a princess that need your help), Link journeys between light and dark worlds on an epic quest to save the Hyrule from doom. And in a rather clever twist, the dark world on his latest journey is not the same Dark World from A Link to the Past, though it bears a very similar feel. This helps prevent the game from feeling as though it’s just a retread of a familiar game and lets gamers really explore the dichotomous environment to their heart’s content.

One place where A Link Between Worlds feels a little less than perfect is the challenge. Traditionally, Zelda titles have at least a couple boss fights or dungeons that have me pulling out my hair in frustration due to dying repeatedly. While there were definitely some challenging moments, I almost never died. This is actually great for getting younger and less-experienced gamers into the game, but for those of us that have played every Zelda game Nintendo published, it can be a little too easy. There is a Hero mode available after completing the game, but I think it might have been worth having an option to choose a difficulty somewhere between Hero and Normal when first setting out on your quest.

Of course, it may just be that the challenge I’m looking for no longer exists because I am an old hat with filling the shoes of the Legendary Hero and because the game has advanced to a point that some of the challenge I recall has been eliminated due to refinements in the controls and gameplay over the years.

All in all, if you haven’t yet played the game, I urge you to run out and pick it up (or just download it here). If you don’t have a 3DS, Nintendo is actually selling them at a pretty affordable price on their Online Store, if you don’t mind a refurbished system.

I am continually amazed at how much more willing I am to grab my 3DS and take it with me than I have been in the last few years. My iPhone and iPad had nearly eliminated my desire to take a Nintendo handheld with me, but A Link Between Worlds, the Bravely Default demo, and my collection of unfinished DS games have done an excellent job of reminding me of how consistently great Nintendo handhelds are.

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Mavericks Browser Showdown: Safari 7 vs. Firefox 24 vs. Chrome 30

A new version of OS X has been released into the wild and, with it, a new version of Safari. I’ve had the luxury of playing with Mavericks during the beta and so I had been using Safari 7 off and on for a while. While I had already grown accustomed to a few of the new features (Shared Links and automatically stopping plug-ins to save power were the most noticeable), I wasn’t using it on my daily driver. So when it was released to the rest of the world, I finally got to see first-hand how much faster the computer felt due to the improvements in resource management.

I suffer from tab-creep in my web browsers. I have never implemented a proper system for taking sites I want to remember but don’t need right away and filing them away somewhere with an easy system for retrieving them. I used to bookmark everything and categorize it later. I’ve also tried dumping everything into Pocket, but it still mostly goes unused. So, as a result, I leave lots of tabs open in my browser until I get fed up and do something about the ones that are left open.

(Incidentally, if anyone out there has a suggestion on a service for filing, tagging, and searching sites I want to remember that is easily accessible from Mac and iOS devices, let me know.)

The first thing I noticed in Mavericks is how much faster Safari behaved with lots of tabs open. Many times I would have to quit Safari while I performed certain key tasks and then reopen it a few moments later when I was finished. This was even more aggravating due to the Internet at work running at glacial speeds during the majority of the day, as I often would have to buffer any videos I wanted to check out in the background in order to watch them later. Suddenly, however, I could leave Safari open and suffer no ill effects in other tasks. After reading up on how much more efficient Mavericks handles resources, I was excited, to say the least.

Throughout the last 5 years or so, several tech websites have performed “browser shootouts” on both Macs and PCs to break down the strengths and weaknesses of each web browser and declare one the victor over all. While Firefox and Chrome are updated semi-regularly, Safari only sees major improvements a few times a year. Generally, a new major release is refined over the course of the year, but adds very little in the way of new features, only bug fixes and optimization. One of the few times to truly see how the browsers compare to one another is to test them shortly after Safari’s major update, so I took it upon myself to do so.

What follows is a very simple test that is by no means exhaustive. But, it gives a good example of Mavericks’ impressive performance gains and what we can expect to see from Chrome and Firefox should they adopt the appropriate APIs to improve their resource management in Mavericks.

The Test

To compare the performance of each browser, I wanted something that was simple and fairly easy to replicate across each browser. So, I exported my bookmarks from Safari and imported them into Chrome and Firefox. Then, one at a time, I launched the browser and opened several bookmark folders into tabs. Once finished, I had 91 tabs open in the browser, four of which were YouTube, Vimeo, Hulu, and Netflix.

These final four tabs were where the real magic was going to happen. I started playing videos in each of the sites, and left Netflix as the front-most tab. Then, I jumped over to Activity Monitor to observe the results.

The first thing I noticed, in both Firefox and Chrome was how quickly the computer became taxed. The fan on the computer ramped up to full speed as it attempted to dispel the heat from my MacBook Pro. In Safari, however, the fan never sped up. I even performed the Safari test twice, once before the others and again at the end to ensure that the computer had been properly warmed up. The MBP kept its cool throughout Safari’s test both times.

I took screenshots of Activity Monitor and used a calculator to add up the percentage of CPU use and GBs consumed in RAM.

The Results

Here is what I discovered (all numbers are approximations):

  • Firefox used 262.6% CPU and 3.37 GB of RAM
  • Chrome performed a mite better using only 234.3% CPU and 3.17 GB of RAM
  • Safari blew them all away with only 85.7% CPU and 2.06 GB of RAM
  • Safari came in a very respectable first place with 120.6% CPU and 2.21 GB of RAM

(Shortly before publishing this, I realized that several instances of two processes that were owned by OS X but managed by Safari weren’t being counted in my initial results: com.apple.audio.ComponentHelper and com.apple.audio.SandboxHelper. Both appeared several times, but were only recognized as Safari processes when viewed hierarchically in Activity Monitor. I have included the correct results above.)

For Firefox, verification was easy. Since Firefox is the only one of the browsers tested that doesn’t separate each tab into its own set of processes, I could just add up the numbers for the Firefox app, and the two plugins being used: Flash and Silverlight.

Chrome and Safari were a bit more frustrating, as they break up tabs into multiple processes, rather than lumping them together. In fact, the first two times I ran this test for Safari, I missed some processes, as mentioned above. I might have missed some for Chrome, as well, but since the goal of this test was to see how Mavericks’ new APIs benefit resource management, I didn’t bother checking to see if Firefox actually managed to outperform Chrome. Once I had added up all the numbers for Chrome and Safari, it became evident that the new features in Mavericks were a huge benefit. It will be interesting to see if Chrome or Firefox see significant performance gains in future versions, as well.

Have you noticed any apps that perform drastically better in OS X Mavericks? Let me know in the comments.

Posted in Apple, Random Acts of Technology | 4 Responses

There and Back (on sale) Again: The Lord of the Rings Extended Editions

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is now available on iTunes in an exclusive extended edition for $20, which (if you are a fan of the movie) is reason enough for excitement. But, even better than that is the discovery that you can buy the complete extended editions of The Lord of the Rings for $40 in HD.

Sadly, I bought the bundle when it was $54 a couple weeks ago, but if you don’t own them yet, this is an incredible deal (especially with the advent of iCloud streaming for iTunes movies that went live recently).

You can also still get the theatrical edition of the first film in The Hobbit trilogy for $18, if you don’t think the extra 13 minutes is worth $2 (or anything). I know very little about the additional footage, so if you do, feel free to leave a comment letting me know.

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