Gaming Memories – Heavy Rain

Format: PS3
Release date: 2010

Heavy Rain is more like an interactive movie than a game, and it is mostly excellent. It’s a game about choices and living with the consequences. I played it through twice myself, just to see how different decisions affect the story and its ultimate conclusion, but to say that my first try was emotional would be the understatement of the century. This game almost broke me. I’ll tell you how soon, but first I want to recount the story of one of my friend’s choices… Like I said, watching Heavy Rain is just like watching a movie, but watching your friends play Heavy Rain gives you an amusing bit of insight into their psychology. The results can be hilarious.

For example, early on in the game, you end up in a standoff with a murder suspect who is aiming a gun at your partner Blake, who is a bit of a dick. Playing as FBI agent Jayden, your job is to resolve the situation in whatever way you can, be it peacefully or otherwise. Me and my friends all handled this very differently.

I managed to slowly calm the suspect down with choice words, opting to talk to the guy multiple times, carefully picking my words and eventually convincing him to lower the gun. My friend Andrew on the other hand, pressed the “shoot him” option as soon as it appeared, and blew the guy’s brains out. No hesitation. Another friend, Adam, did something very unique… He first spent a good deal of time slowly talking the man down, just as I had. About 5 of us were watching the whole scene unfold, the tension heavy in the room and everyone on the edges of our seats. After some lengthy effort, Adam managed to convince the guy to lower his gun and everyone watching let out a breath of relief. Then just as the guy was finally lowering his gun, Adam shot him in the face.

We were stunned into silence. “Why did you do that!?” I eventually asked, holding back a hysterical laugh.

“I thought were going to have a gun down,” Adam explained, as if it was obvious. He was referring to his final choice, a floating bit of text assigned to the X button that simply read “Gun down.”

“That meant you were telling him to PUT THE GUN DOWN. What the fuck even is a ‘gun down‘?”

Everyone fell about laughing at Adam’s misunderstanding, and we have never really let him forget it.

*Spoiler alert – this next part is all about my ending. I want to tell you about my specific ending, because until I played this game, I never truly understood the concept of devastation… *

It all started to go wrong for me when FBI agent Norman Jayden was thrown under the tracks of a moving industrial digger and crushed to death. I only had a couple of seconds to comprehend what was happening because the chapter ended and the game moved swiftly on. There’s no Game Over screen, no Retry option in Heavy Rain. If one of your main characters die, then you have to play the rest of the game without them. And Norman happens to be capable of rescuing another character later on, so without him, I was suddenly in for a slightly tougher time.

Then Madison, the insomniac journalist, burned to death in Scott’s house, immediately after learning that he was the killer. I couldn’t manage to get her out of the bedroom inferno, and she flopped onto the burning bed, caught fire, rolled around in agony screaming before the screen finally put me out of my misery and faded to black.

So two down, why not haplessly kill another one? My mistake with Ethan happened at the motel during a daring escape attempt to flee the cops. Madison was still alive at this point, but she was left helplessly watching me fumble the controls and get caught before even making it to the roof. My Ethan ended up arrested and locked in a jail cell for the rest of the game. He eventually hung himself, because there was no-one left alive who could save his son Shaun (who consequently died alone, drowned in a sewer drain).

The nail in my coffin was having to witness Scott Shelby, a character who I had REALLY liked up until this horrendous climax, smugly stroll away into a crowd of people, quite literally getting away with murder. And it was all my incompetent fault.

I was so disturbed by my ending that I spent the entire next day totally miserable. Unable to accept that I could fuck up a game so badly, I started it over from the beginning with, I’m ashamed to admit, the difficulty set to “easy”. This time I saved Shaun, none of my main characters died, and I enacted sweet justice on the Origami Killer by chucking him into an industrial garbage grinder.

I was amazed at how much I had missed on my first play through and how many subtle differences Quantic Dream came up with to really let the player create a unique experience for themselves. But I will never forget my first play through, as horrible as it was.

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Gaming Memories – World of Warcraft

Format: PC
Release date: 2004

WoW consumed my life for almost the entirety of 2004/05, when I was studying for my A-levels, and was probably a key contributor to my D-grades. I’m probably not the only person who would admit to daydreaming of roaming through Elwynn Forest, even many years after I stopped playing. I just spent so much time there, and other places of that world, sometimes roleplaying, always questing, but best of all simply exploring an unknown land. Even though I LOVE what Blizzard did in Cataclysm, my favourite memories all come from what they call Vanilla WoW, the original version of the game.

Swimming from Westfall down to Booty Bay and gawping at the raptors roaming the shores of Stranglethorn Vale. “There’s even DINOSAURS in this game!?” Flying on a gryphon from Stormwind to Ironforge, feeling small as an ant as I soared past Blackrock Mountain… Finally being able to buy my first Mount, a simple brown horse from the stables in Elwynn Forest, after saving up for over 6 MONTHS…

But I want to tell you about the Battle of Lakeshire.

It took me about a week or two of playing in the noobie zones of Elwynn Forest and Westfall before I was able to venture East to the pleasant region of Redridge Mountains. There lies a peaceful village called Lakeshire. When I arrived, it was under siege. Two fearsomely big fire ogres had somehow managed to wander through the dark and scary pass of the Burning Steppes and were murdering everyone within smashing distance. (Basically, two high level trolls had lured them down to kill the low level players.)

This scene blew my fragile little mind. There must have been over a hundred people fighting the ogres, all swarming around them swinging their weapons and casting spells. It was an absolute frenzy. Most of the people involved couldn’t even hit the things, myself included. My level 24 Human Warrior was so inexperienced that he couldn’t even see what level the ogres were – their level was marked by a creepy skull icon instead. Which only made it all the more tempting to slay the foul creatures! So I waded in head first, swinging my hammer with reckless futility, floating text that said “missed!” repeatedly floating skywards from my pathetic blows.

I died again and again. Along with everyone else. The battle went on for well over an hour, as more people joined the fray. I kept getting burned to death by the ogres’ area-of-effect fire rain attacks, then would run back as a ghost, respawn and try again. It was amazing to see so many players in the same space all with a single cause.

You can find countless stories of huge organised guild raids as they battle the likes of Onyxia, or Kel Thusad or even other tales where huge beasts were lured into the city walls of Stormwind. But I never saw any of that. For me the epic battle of Lakeshire between two nameless ogres was the pinnacle of what online gaming could be, and cemented itself in my memory forever.

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Gaming Memories – Alone in the Dark

Format: DOS
Release date: 1992

The first horror game I ever played, and I never got beyond the room in the attic where the wolf attacks you. All 5 polygons of the terrifying beast were enough to send me fleeing from the room, leaving my father to deal with it. It was one of the only gaming memories I can share with my dad because he is absolutely uninterested in the world of videogames. Maybe that’s why I remember Alone in the Dark. It was the start of a peculiar love/hate relationship I have with scary games, which I’ve just realised could only have started when I was about 6 years old trying to shove a chest across a trap door to stop the zombie and then a shelf in front of a window to block the awful wolf…

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Gaming Memories – Trials

Format: PC, Xbox 360, PS3
Release date: 2000 – present day

The Trials franchise is surely the most successful game to ever start out life as a Flash browser game. I remember playing the original game on Miniclip back in the day, and I have played every single iteration since. The game’s core concept is simple – you control a trials bike, and must navigate it across a series of increasingly difficult obstacle courses on a 2D pane. It’s the perfect pick-up-and-play game, because it’s easy to get the basics, but insanely difficult to master.

The series peaked when the game exploded onto the Xbox Live Arcade, first with Trials HD, then Trials Evolution, my personal favourite of them all. Evolution introduced 4-player competitive modes, an excellent level editor and an online marketplace to download and share custom maps. It all worked seamlessly. Itbecame a favourite at the flat in Baldock, where my friends and I wiled away hours, taking turns to complete levels and strive to hoover up as many gold medals as we could. It usually fell to me to get the best scores, as for whatever reason I had spent the longest time playing it and seemed to have a knack for it that my friends didn’t. But I’m no match for some of the online masters. I couldn’t really finish any of the Extreme levels. My favourites are always in the ‘medium’ section. Big swooping ramps and giant leaps that flow smoothly into each other.

My friends created me a level, using the built in editor, to test my skill. I remember it fondly because they had spent an entire weekend building it. It started out with an infuriating bit Robbie nicknamed “Ride the Bomb”, because you spawned directly on top of a falling bomb and had to quickly accelerate and lean in the right way to flick the bomb away from you. Had we ever uploaded that map to the marketplace, people would have downvoted it instantly, because you would die at least 10 times before you figured out the method. But I loved that map, because my mates made it for me.

Also, Trials is one of the few games that I’ve enjoyed playing with my brother, Sam. He doesn’t play games but he is very much into extreme sports and whatnot, so he appreciated Trials, mostly coz of the accurate, if still ‘gamey’ physics. He was a natural at the game, thanks to his real-life understanding of bike physics, and it was fun for me to see him pick it up very quickly.

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Gaming Memories – Demon’s Souls

Format: PS3
Release date: 2009

I don’t get on with the Souls games at all, but I really wish that I did. For me, the combat was just a little too clunky and, oh, you know, fucking difficult. (Come on, the PC version of Dark Souls is called the “Prepare to Die” edition.) I love that these games exist, it’s just they require a level of patience that I simply do not possess. Fortunately, my good friend and ex-housemate Robbie does. I watched him play through most of Dark Souls 2, all of its DLC, and then Dark Souls 3, quite content to sit back on the sofa and enjoy the gruelling, oppressive show. My favourite memory of these games started with the original on PS3, Demon’s Souls.

Robbie chose to play as a lightly armoured thief type adventurer, armed with swift daggers, or a short sword & shield combo. His tactics were to always have enough stamina and agility to dodge attacks and roll out of the way. (He sometimes liked to hide in a spot and fire 600 arrows at a boss that didn’t know where he was; Robbie’s not a man above exploiting enemy AI when you’re balls-deep in a terrifying Souls dungeon). About 5 hours into Demon’s Souls, he found himself exploring a vast, ruinous castle, a typically grim location, full of undead skeleton soldiers, a gigantic blob monster riddled with spears, and a couple of fire-breathing dragons.

We were both busy gawping at one of the dragons from what we thought a safe distance, as it lay on a mound, sleeping at the end of a long stone rampart. Between it and us was a small army of skeletons, but by this point Robbie had gotten the hang of dealing with them. So, he crept onto the rampart and began meticulously dispatching the skeletons one at a time, heading towards the sleeping dragon. Suddenly, its wings opened up and it took to the sky… ah, not asleep, then. Within seconds, it had swooped towards the rampart and rained hellish dragonfire down across the walkway burning every skeleton and us in the process. “YOU DIED” appeared in big red capital letters in the middle of the screen, not for the first or last time. “I guess you can’t go that way,” I said to Robbie when he respawned at the nearest bonfire. “Of course I can!” he declared. “I need my souls!”

He died on the second, third, fourth and fifth attempts to cross the rampart, before giving up and going to another area of the castle. But eventually, many days later, he came back and defeated that pesky dragon. How? He hid on the rampart and fired 600 arrows at it until it died.

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Gaming Memories – Portal

Format: PC
Release date: 2007

Portal is one of those games that sprang out of nowhere, taking everyone by surprise and causing a storm all across the internet. With almost no hype, and zero expectations, it came bundled as a throwaway extra in The Orange Box, arguably the best game bundle ever made.

My fondest memory of Portal was watching my friend Adam play through it for the first time. He stayed around my house one night, which in itself was quite a rare thing, and I insisted he play through Portal because it’s short, sweet and hilarious. The reason I remember this night so well is because Adam had been recommending games and movies to me for as long as I’ve known him, and it’s rare for me to have a chance to show something new to him. He’s also quite hard to impress, and I wanted desperately for him to like something that I introduced him to. And he loved it. We started at midnight and he didn’t beat GlaDOS until about 3am, but the entire time between was us cracking up and basking in the sardonic cruelty and piss-taking of one of gaming’s greatest antagonists. When the brilliantly silly end-credits song ‘Still Alive’ came on, we were both grinning ear to ear.

This happened within the first few weeks of the game’s release, and I was so glad to enjoy that game with Adam before all of the lying cake memes wore out their welcome. I regularly go back and play through Portal, just to be entertained by GlaDOS. It’s very close to being the perfect game.

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Gaming Memories – Fighter Ace

Format: PC
Release date: 1997

Fighter Ace was a free-to-play Second World War dogfighting game. You just logged in, spawned in a big sky with about 20 or 30 other people and shot the shit out of each other. It taught me that the Japanese Zero was one of the greatest fighter planes of WW2. Sure, it was lightly armoured and went down easily with just a few direct hits, but it was so manoeuvrable, so fast and agile that it could take on pretty much any other plane and come out on top.

I bought a flight stick and everything to play this game, but it didn’t really grab me as much as my uncle Dave, who built his own custom PC to play games on and had friends in America (all the way across the ocean!) that he played with regularly. It wasn’t much time after this that I built my own computer and I started making friends in America and other countries, many of whom I’m still in contact with now, and who share my passion for games. That’s another story entirely, but I think I can safely say that my introduction to how the online world can meet real life started with my uncle’s PC and Fighter Ace.

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Gaming Memories – Return to Castle Wolfenstein

Format: PC
Release date: 2001

Return to Castle Wolfenstein introduced me to the world of PC gaming. I have my uncle Dave to thank for this. He used to play two games, Wolfenstein and Fighter Ace, and I loved going round his house because he had a gaming PC, curiously built by a company called Gateway… The PC was something so alien and awesome to me that it made my N64 seem like the toy it always was (I still love you, my 64). Wolfenstein became Enemy Territory, a free standalone multiplayer component, but it was the ‘original’ Return to Castle Wolfenstein that dragged me into PC gaming, and I’ve never looked back since.

The singleplayer was all about shooting Nazis, but as soon as the game introduced zombies on about the fourth level, I couldn’t play it any more. I had yet to grow a spine. Multiplayer didn’t have any zombies, though. It was a pure WW2 shooter, Axis vs Allies, no frills first-person combat. It was the first game that I ever played which let you choose a role – you could be a medic, a soldier, engineer, lieutenant, and each class supported each other. Teamwork became an essential tactic; a team full of regular soldiers wouldn’t be able to complete all the objectives in a level.

Let’s take the classic Beach level as an example. First you’d need an engineer to blow up a hole in the wall using TNT and pliers. Lieutenants could dish out ammunition and call in artillery strikes on the bunkers overlooking the beach. Medics, useful in any situation, would run around handing out medpacks and jabbing injured soldiers back to life with adrenaline shots. And finally, flamethrower wielding soldiers were deadly in the tight confines of the trenches and pillboxes, cooking enemies alive with a stream of molten fire. Oh, god there are few games that have a more satisfying flamethrower.

This game started my love affair with FPS games on the PC, and while the accuracy and nimbleness of using a mouse and keyboard helped, I think the classes were a massive part of that. It paved the way for games like Planetside and Battlefield, other excellent examples of class-based multiplayer shooters. Team Fortress Classic deserves some recognition here I’m sure, but I only played the long-awaited sequel many years later. For me, Return to Castle Wolfenstein is where my PC gaming passion took hold. I was 13 when I built my first computer, again thanks to my uncle Dave who showed me how to do it, just so I could play Wolfenstein with him. I have gone through 6 or 7 iterations since then, constantly upgrading it every now and then. Owning a PC is a wonderful hobby, and more than that, gave birth to my entire career as a web designer, animator, writer, and geek… and Return to Castle Wolfenstein was my gateway.

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Gaming Memories – Haunting Ground

Format: PS2
Release date: 2005
AKA: Demento (Japan)

One of my all-time favourite gaming memories is playing Haunting Ground with my mates at the flat in Baldock for 16 hours straight. It was me holding the controller for almost all of those 16 hours. It’s a bit obscure, so if you haven’t heard of it, it’s a survival horror game by Capcom, in which you play as a pretty little fragile girl called Fiona, who must escape from a huge labyrinthine castle. Oh, and you can’t fight. Your only option is to run away and hide from the nasty people that are out to get you. You do have a companion throughout though, the best dog in gaming, a white German Shepherd called Hewie. My friends know that I love dogs, and Robbie played a rather mean trick on me near the beginning… He said “press square, it lets you stroke the dog.” I stood beside Hewie, pressed square, and watched in horror as my Fiona kicked the dog. I didn’t listen to Robbie again for the rest of the game.

The aforementioned nasty people are few and far between in Haunting Ground, which is what makes it so unique. There’s only 5 enemies, I think, and you deal with them one at a time. After evading the deformed, simple-minded gardener who wants to either be your friend, eat you, or rape you (or possibly all 3), you then are stalked by a Terminator-style cyborg woman armed with a shard of mirror. All you can do is hide, which suits me, I’m quite good at hiding and running away from enemies in horror games. Each time you come face to face with one of the enemies, Fiona’s sanity decreases dramatically, and if you can’t find a suitable place to hide fast enough, she might panic and begin running around completely out of control. We nicknamed this ‘disco mode’ because the screen starts flashing, music plays and you have no choice but to hope she runs somewhere safe or that Hewie is close enough to find you and calm you down. It’s brilliant.

I reached this difficult bit which involved navigating a room with lava falling from the ceiling. After playing all night without sleeping, long after the sun had risen, it proved too difficult for my sleep-deprived brain so I handed the controller to Ben, who did it for me. It was the only bit of the game that I didn’t play. It must have been close to midday on the day after we started playing by this point, and I had to power through to reach the end. The finale involved fighting a final boss of some kind, which I barely remember, but in order to defeat him and get the ‘good’ ending, you had to have built up enough trust and friendship with Hewie throughout the game. Fortunately, that one accidental kick didn’t damage my bond with Hewie, and he ended up heroically leaping out from a tunnel to attack my pursuer, saving my life. I will never forget his bravery… 16 hours of hard work bonding with a digital dog, it paid off and I got the good ending. He really is the best dog in any game and has yet to be surpassed. Haunting Ground is a fantastic game…actually, it’s not, but I love it anyway.

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Gaming Memories – Pokémon Red

Format: Gameboy
Release date: 1996

You might have heard of Pokémon. I can’t quite believe that date. 1996!? Holy crap. 21 years ago, apparently, I got well into this strange Japanese game about collecting made-up animals, stuffing them into balls and training them to fight each other. Yeah, the entire notion of Pokémon sounds horrific in this world of PETA and tofu, but as a game concept, it’s utter genius. Enjoyed by my entire generation as kids, we then grew up and got obsessed all over again in Pokémon Go!

But Pokémon Go gets tedious quickly because there isn’t really much meat to the game. The original Red and Blue versions (and consequently every other Pokémon game since then because they all follow the same blueprint), featured a coming of age story about a boy or girl setting out into the world to become the very best, like no one ever was… Red will always be my favourite because Charizard.

I still remember walking into Professor Oak’s lab, and him offering me the 3 starter Pokémon to choose from – Bulbasaur, Squirtle and Charmander. There wasn’t really any choice for me though because Charizard. After choosing my starter, Professor Oak asked if I wanted to give him a nickname. I thought why not, and amusingly called my beloved Charmander FIREMAN, in capital letters and everything. I didn’t realise that this name would actually be used every single time my prized Pokémon was referenced. So whenever I sent him out to battle, it shouted at me, “FIREMAN! I choose you!” And the worst part was it even kept the bloody name after it had evolved into Charmeleon and Charizard. Also, I taught him Cut without fully understanding that he could never unlearn it. So my single greatest Pokémon, the one I have put more effort into training than any other, even to this day, is my awesome but fucking stupidly named Charizard, who knows Cut instead of Fireblast, and is called FIREMAN.

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Gaming Memories – Conker’s Bad Fur Day

Format: N64
Release date: 2001

Now and then one can’t help climbing aboard the hype train. You work yourself up into a frothing frenzy in anticipation of some new game whose trailers and screenshots make it seem like the best…thing…EVER. That’s how I felt about Conker’s Bad Fur Day when I first read about it in N64 Magazine (before the internet butchered the magazine industry). They did several preview write-ups about it in the years before it was released, and it changed from being a cutesy 3D adventure, to merely looking like a cutesy 3D adventure plastered with a layer of adult filth. I couldn’t have been more excited to play it. Did it live up to my expectations? Hell yes.

The game was made by Rare, so any right-minded Nintendo gamer should have been excited – they were responsible for some of the best games the console had to offer. But several delays seemed to kill the momentum of the game, and it was finally released in March 2001, right at the end of the N64’s lifecycle. Perhaps because of that, the game didn’t seem to sell as well as Rare may have hoped. Perhaps the fact it was one of the only ‘Mature’ rated games Nintendo had ever published at the time.

The funny thing is, Conker’s Bad Fur Day is far from mature. It’s fucking hilarious, though. As a kid, I felt so naughty playing a game with swear words in. I can still recite lines of dialogue in my head, I played it so many times. The cow-shitting level never ceases to have me in stitches… “Oh I do hope Mavis and Olive don’t see this!” And the rude cog in the tower near the dogfish, utters the frankly genius line, “Twatting shite, don’t ever do that again!” The game was beautiful too, the colourful cartoon graphics pushing the N64 to its limit. Great games always tend to come out towards the end of a console’s life, when the devs know exactly what they can do with the technology, and CBFD is a prime example.

Rare released an inferior remake of the game on the Xbox, with nice fancy new graphics, but it isn’t nearly as good as the original because they added a load of unnecessary combat and even changed some of the dialogue!

The reason I mentioned how badly the game must have sold is because the game seems to be a bit of a collector’s item these days, though there are plenty of them going on eBay. It’s bloody expensive though! £80 for a mint boxed copy. I only wish I still had mine. I lent it to some kid called Stephen who I barely knew, eager to introduce a child to a game that starts off with a hungover squirrel staggering around a cornfield. But the little git never gave it back to me. I hope he looked after it…

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Gaming Memories – Mario Kart

Format: Nintendo Wii
Release date: 2008

I’ve played many versions of Mario Kart, first on the Snes at a friend’s house, followed by my own copy of the N64 version. The Nintendo DS edition got a lot of play during the various anime conventions that I attended between 2006 and 2011, where you could LAN it up via Bluetooth with anyone else in the vicinity. But the version I truly have the fondest memories of has to be Mario Kart Wii.

It all started on the day I brought my Nintendo Wii into the office. This was back when I had a real job, working 9-5 in a marketing agency as a multimedia designer. My boss, John, and co-workers Luke and Chris, would often stay a little later after closing to enjoy a Grand Prix. The 8 races usually took less than an hour to play through, so it was a nice way to wind down after a hard day at the office. Relaxing. Civil. A bit of gentlemanly competition.

Or not.

I can’t believe I wasn’t sacked. On the very first day we played, I chose Yoshi, because he was always my character. I kicked the shit out of my co-workers, winning every race and almost putting them off playing ever again. So, next time, I decided to pick one of the slowest characters, Donkey Kong. Give ‘em a chance, y’know? At first I hated it; he is fat and lumbering, and corners like a dumper truck. But I soon realised that being a giant gorilla in a go-kart is ridiculously entertaining, because I no longer needed to drive around my opponents… I could go through them.

Smashing my opponents from behind and sending them into a bottomless pit became my tactic of choice when playing against my increasingly pissed off colleagues. John threw my Wii-mote at the wall multiple times, Chris would give me a look that could curdle milk, and Luke swore in pure rage, going red in the face, and even took up practicing at home on his nephew’s Wii, just so he could try and better me. There were occasions when Luke or Chris might sneak a win, (I don’t remember John ever finishing higher than 3rd), Rich was okay at the game, but preferred playing Fifa, and obviously when Paul played I had a real competitor for once, but he rarely wanted to. So, I left the office as the Mario Kart champion almost every single night. You might think that repeatedly pummelling a bunch of non-gamers at a child’s racing game would grow tedious or dull, but somehow it never did. It was hilarious.

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