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Your favorite video game magazines, memories of them, and have they aged well?


newtmonkey

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Some more thoughts:

 

Computer Gaming World

     I blasted through the '90 issues... there ended up being a LOT of stuff not worth reading imo this year, such as straight-up walkthroughs full of spoilers from Scorpia (adventures and RPGs) and "survey" articles that go on and on for pages simply summarizing a dozen games with a sentence or two.  I also ended up skipping the pages upon pages of wargame and sim strategy guides, since I have zero interest in those genres.

     Scorpia has been given a regular column this year, in addition to her letters section and review of the month.  I've complained before about how she would just drop a spoiler-filled mini walkthrough in the middle of her reviews, and she still does that (why would anyone want this???), but she's otherwise an excellent critic and writer, so I enjoyed reading her columns.  Having said that, she seems hyper critical of RPGs at the time, criticizing them for not playing just like pen and paper games around the table with your friends.  I really don't know what she was expecting, as computers are not even capable of doing this NOW never mind in 1990.  She describes her ideal RPG in one column, and it sounds 100% like Baldur's Gate... which is hilarious, because she would somewhat infamously give that game an extremely negative (and bizarre) review years later.

     I must also mention the particularly awful reviews written by Charles Ardai.  He is one of those reviewers who spends 90% of the review talking about anything other than the game, and then wrapping the review up with one of those wishy washy "it's okay, if you like this kind of game give it a try" paragraphs.  Whenever I read any of his reviews, I end up with no idea whatsoever as to how the game plays or what it's about.

     Finally, although the mag thankfully got rid of Arnie Katz's bizarre video game column... they went and restarted the column again, just under a different writer (Roe Adams).  If I want to read about the Sega Genesis in 1990, I'm reading EGM or something, not "Computer Gaming World."

 

PC Entertainment

     I finished the '92 issues, and this magazine is just exceptional.  It's got a really clean, professional layout, and the writing is excellent.  Featured games will usually get 3-4 pages per review, while smaller games will get a single page.  I'm so happy I discovered this mag recently... I would have loved it back in the day.

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On 1/31/2024 at 12:52 PM, newtmonkey said:

@Wayler

Not any reviews in particular, but I've just noticed some comments and asides here and there in the first couple of issues suggesting the reviewer doesn't care for traditional RPGs.  For example, in their Soul Blazer review:

"...Soul Blazer treads familiar RPG territory, avoiding the weaker elements that plague many of these games - there's none of that tedious alternate-move combat stuff here, for instance."

 

As for shmups, there were some comments that suggest they are already tired of the genre, which is a strange position to take in 1992, unless you just don't like the genre.  Again, though, they were just asides and not reviews, so they might have even just been joking.

 

Of course, they reviewed only a couple of shmups (fine reviews) and no real RPGs in the first couple of issues, so we'll see how it goes!

Shmups were definitely "out" in 1992. It was the rise of fighting games, the pinnacle of platformers, and the era of weird experimentation. A genre that had its origin in the very beginnings of video games (with Space Invaders) was seen as passe.

 

As far as turn-based RPGs go, that was seen as a weird Japanese thing. I was young enough to not realize that, so I thoroughly enjoyed what JRPGs I had access to, but FF2 and FF3 were definitely outliers until FF7 came around and changed things and made the genre respectable again.

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Posted (edited)

     I don't disagree that platformers and then fighting games became the dominant genre for the 16-bit consoles, but if companies were still releasing shmups and RPGs in 1992, then there was a market and fanbase for them.  It's unprofessional and a disservice to the readers to not review the games on their merits, and if the reviewer in question doesn't "get" shmups, someone else who does should be reviewing them.  The major US mags (EGM, Gamepro, Gamefan) at the time heaped a lot of praise on shmups and RPGs alike.

     It's a moot point anyway, because my impressions were only on the first couple of issues of Superplay.  They improved a lot only a few issues in, and started assigning reviewers properly.

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Gekkan PC Engine

     This was a Japanese magazine devoted solely to the PC Engine, and it's a decent one at that.  I mentioned earlier in this topic the nice layouts, excellent screenshots, and surprisingly in-depth walkthroughs and strategy guides... but like with any mag, the more you read it, the more you start to find annoying.

     It was fun at first reading these cover to cover (skipping the extensive "lifestyle and hobby" section in the middle)... but I realized after a few issues that much of each issue is just bunch a filler content not worth reading.  So many pages are devoted to previewing the same handful of games month after month and basically just telling you that the graphics are AWESOME!!!! or describing the screen to you and telling you what you do in the game ("fly to the right and shoot things!" "walk to the right and bop things!").  With that in mind, I've mostly just been flipping through these and only reading previews of games that never got released or otherwise just look interesting to me (mostly RPGs), and any interviews they have with game developers (very rare).

     I was also initially reading the reviews, too, but they are some of the worst out there.  There is simply not enough space given for the reviewers to go into any detail, and nearly every game gets a 70-80% review from every single reviewer, with the "review" almost always being some variation of "cool characters, good graphics, good pacing, not too difficult."  Cosmic Fantasy, which was released in an unfinished/broken state (half the items and spells do nothing, enemies and bosses don't use any special attacks or spells, etc.) gets a round of 70-80% reviews ("cool characters, good pacing, not too difficult")... but the straw that broke the camel's back for me was the round of 70-80% reviews for the complete garbage that is the PC Engine port of Golden Axe (laughably described by one of the reviewers as a "fine port").

     One fascinating thing about this mag is that you can see the train wreck that was the development of Tengai Makyo ZIRIA happening in real-time.  Early issues of the mag cover the first version of the game, which looked extremely impressive... and then one suddenly the game is some kind of action RPG... and then the very next month it turns out the developers scrapped that and and now the game is yet again completely different.  At some point, it starts to look a lot closer to the disappointing game that was actually released... and then just a few months later it's finished and reviewed!  That explains a LOT about that game!

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On 3/6/2024 at 4:16 AM, newtmonkey said:

     I don't disagree that platformers and then fighting games became the dominant genre for the 16-bit consoles, but if companies were still releasing shmups and RPGs in 1992, then there was a market and fanbase for them.  It's unprofessional and a disservice to the readers to not review the games on their merits, and if the reviewer in question doesn't "get" shmups, someone else who does should be reviewing them.  The major US mags (EGM, Gamepro, Gamefan) at the time heaped a lot of praise on shmups and RPGs alike.

     It's a moot point anyway, because my impressions were only on the first couple of issues of Superplay.  They improved a lot only a few issues in, and started assigning reviewers properly.

Oh, not arguing that. If anything, it clearly shows a lack of taste in the reviewer!

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Posted (edited)

I'm in the middle of '93 for most of the mags, so some general comments:

 

Computer Gaming World ('92)

     At first I really liked the quality of the writing in this mag (full sentences, no typos!), as well as the comprehensive coverage of PC games of all genres... but I have to admit that I just don't like most of the articles and reviews in this mag.  The reviewers are too "cute" and are always trying to be witty but, imo, failing miserably.  It's a bit tedious to get through most of the reviews, because you often have to skip anywhere from 1-3 paragraphs before the review starts, and then several paragraphs will be devoted to describing the screen to you in excruciating detail; crucial back when the mag didn't even have screenshots, but not in 1992!

     One perfect example is the review of Ultima VII by Charles Ardai, where he spends two entire paragraphs talking about how seven is an unlucky number, and how many people are avoiding Ultima VII because it's the seventh game in the series (huh????).  This is after Scorpia fully reviewed the same game in the previous issue, so I don't understand the point of having yet another review.  He also suggests that combat in U7 has a turn-based mode (it doesn't), so in other words it fails as a review because it doesn't even accurately describe how the game plays.  He does spend a lot of the review describing the screen and praising the in-game speech, but doesn't actually review the game at all!  Is it good?  How is it compared with the previous game, or even compared with the back-to-back masterpieces of Ultima IV and Ultima V.  I have to wonder if he played those games, or even completed U7!

     At some point in 1992, the mag dropped the fun Rumor Bag column (they seemed to get a LOT of complaint letters about this column)... though they did reinstate it later in the year.

     Reading these mags now, I definitely prefer PC Entertainment (from the Game Player's publisher) for PC game coverage.  The writing is just much better, and I find myself reading each issue cover to cover, even when the mag is covering games in genres I really don't care about.

 

EGM

     I just read through the June '93 issue (Mortal Kombat on the cover), and it was a very nostalgic read indeed!  I was completely obsessed with MK around this time, so I remember reading the MK feature over and over.  It's also just a cool issue overall at around 200 pages long, with lots of import coverage.  This was definitely a high point for the mag, though it would get even better in '94 imo.

 

Super Play

     I ended up mostly skimming through this mag.  It's got great screenshots, awesome page layouts, and quality writing, but it's so jokey that I find it hard to take seriously.  They are just throwing jokes at the wall to see what sticks, though it is sometimes very funny.  The reviews are fine, but it's another case of 1-3 paragraphs of jokes and nonsense before the review actually begins.  I did get a kick out of how much they (rightfully) flipped out over the fact that the Super FX chip was developed by a UK company.  I think everyone knows this now, but I don't recall Nintendo Power mentioning this back in the day (though I might be wrong).

Edited by newtmonkey
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  • 2 weeks later...
Posted (edited)

I've caught up on all the mags I'm reading and am nearing the end of 1993.  It's been a lot of fun so far!  Some thoughts:

 

EGM

The October '93 issue is basically the start of peak EGM.  The layout is in place, the screenshots are awesome, and the writing is even decent at this point.  This is the first issue where you get Major Mike reviewing games the main reviewers didn't bother to cover, and also the first issue where you get the awesome "Good/Bad/Ugly" box in the game previews.  It's just such a fun magazine to read at this point.

 

Computer Gaming World

I'm getting increasingly annoyed with this mag!  They expanded their reviews to two, sometimes three, pages, and it's all just a bunch of garbage.  90% of any given review just tells you the story and summarizes the screen (with lots of puns of "comedic" asides), so it just feels like a waste of space.  The mag expanded in '93, but each issue has anywhere from 20-40 pages of wargame/sim coverage, so if you don't care about those genres, it's all a bunch of nonsense.

As a fan of RPGs, I don't get the RPG reviews in this mag at all.  Their adventure/RPG columnist, Scorpia, has several features each issue, including two different spoiler/hint columns... but even in her reviews she insists on outright spoiling the game out of nowhere.  I'm not gonna get too upset about the ending of, I dunno, The Dark Queen of Krynn being spoiled, but why even do this in what is supposed to be a review?  It's crazy.  Why would the editors allow this?

 

Electronic Games

This mag has a great layout but is just awful.  It's VG&CE part 2.  The writing is excellent, but the reviews are absolutely awful.  Every single game gets a review from 78% to 82%, regardless of quality, unless the game is major title, then it gets a score in the high 90s.  The reviewers all write well, but have absolutely no taste at all, so some random garbage licensed platformer will get an 80% because the animation is cool and there's digitized voice.  You simply cannot rely on these people for reviews.

 

Nintendo Power

An absolutely beautiful magazine with perfect screenshots all over the place and ridiculously thorough maps for whatever game they were pushing at the time, and fun comics too.  Unfortunately, there's not much worth actually reading!  Nintendo's own magazine was way behind the times when it came to future releases and import coverage, so it seems a bit quaint if you were reading EGM or whatever.

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  • 3 weeks later...
Posted (edited)

I completed reading through all the '93 issues of the mags I'm reading (Computer Game Review and EntertainmentComputer Gaming WorldEGMElectronic Games, PC Entertainment, GameFanNintendo Power, Gekkan PC Engine, and Super Play).  Instead of providing my thoughts on all of these (most of them did not change much at all throughout '93, so my comments elsewhere in this thread stand), I'll just list my

 

Top Three Gaming Mags of 1993

1. PC Entertainment

     This magazine really surprised me with its overall quality.  The layout is very text heavy and could be described as dull (though they did end up jazzing it up a bit in a tasteful way), but the actual writing is far and away better than any other contemporary mag.  The reviews are a pleasure to read, briefly and expertly summarizing the plot and overall mechanics before delving into what works and what doesn't.  Reviews tended to be assigned to reviewers who actually like and understand games in that particular genre, and it's obvious that the reviewers all extensively played the game they reviewed.

     My only real complaint is that their "RPG" guy never really seemed to like RPGs, and really only seemed to get excited about the genre once the first-person action RPGs started coming out.

     Sadly, this mag only lasted until early '94... though it turns out there was some good news in mid '94! (See below)

 

2. EGM

     EGM peaked imo in 1994, but by mid-late '93 all the elements were in place: a great layout, nice screenshots, and massive holiday issues.  I don't care for the review format, but I do think most of the review scores are quite honest; they had no problem ripping into a shitty game or praising a hidden gem.  The writing improved a bit this year, though it doesn't matter much as this is not a mag you read for the commentary.  It's still a ton of fun flipping through this mag today.

 

3. GameFan

     I knew going in that this magazine was much loved back in the day, but I was still pleasantly surprised.  It's very amateurish but in a likeable way, and the page layouts and screens are even better than that of EGM!  I love how these guys would just go bonkers over some random game no other magazine gave a shit about, like Dr. Robotnik's Mean Bean Machine on the Genesis or Cybermorph on the Jaguar.

 

---

 

With that, I'm on to 1994, which sees the introduction of a new mag to read:

 

PC Gamer

This was my magazine of choice for PC gaming in the 90s, and I was looking forward to revisiting it.  After reading the first '94 issue, I'm happy to report that the magazine has aged extremely well!  It has great writing, and this is especially true of the excellent reviews written by critics who understand the genres they write about.  It really reminded me of the excellent PC Entertainment and it even shares a lot of the staff from that mag... and I was not too surprised when the editor of the letters column mentioned that PC Gamer is in effect PC Entertainment under a different name.  Now I'm really looking forward to reading more of this mag.

Edited by newtmonkey
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  • 2 weeks later...
Posted (edited)

I finished all the 1994 issues of the magazines I'm reading.  Instead of giving my thoughts on each mag, I'll list the winners and losers of '94 (all in my opinion of course):

 

Winners:

EGM

     1994 was probably peak EGM.  Massive issues, a wonderful layout, and combined with EGMyou were sometimes getting nearly 800 pages a month of content (with a lot of ads, but still...).  I still love flicking through this mag, even if there's actually not much worth reading besides the reviews, gossip, and the "good/bad/ugly" sidebars.

GameFan

     This is the year the mag catapulted from what was basically a self-published fanzine of unbelievably high quality, to a legit competitor to EGM with national distribution.  It's a great looking mag that looked better with each issue, and the passion for games was infectious.  Their reviews, however, were pretty ridiculous, with some real garbage getting 80-90%+ reviews across the board.

PC Gamer

     A new mag launched late in '94, this was actually my beloved PC Entertainment under a different name.  It's still got the much of the same staff, the same focus on well-written previews and reviews, but a major upgrade in the layout!  I recall this magazine getting very ridiculous later on (Coconut Monkey???), but in '94 it was a serious mag written for adults by editors who really knew their stuff.  It blows the overrated Computer Gaming World out of the water.

     This magazine is really fascinating to me.  You can trace its development straight from the multiformat Game Player's magazine, to their PC offshoot Game Player's PC Strategy Guide and their dedicated PC mag Game Players PC Entertainment, and finally to PC Gamer.  Interestingly, they use a lot of same writers from mag to mag, so it's a pretty consistent read from 1989 to 1994 and onward!

 

Losers:

Electronic Games

     This was the follow-up to VideoGames & Computer Entertainment, and it suffers from the same faults as that mag.  Most if not all of the editors are completely incapable of telling a good game apart from a bad one, regardless of having years of experience writing about games.  Reviews of platformers, for example, seem to come down to how cute or funny they found the animations to be.  A disaster like Ultima VIII (even in its original, frustrating incarnation) gets a sterling review.  The wretched Way of the Warrior gets a higher review than the miracle port of Mortal Kombat II (SNES).  It just goes on and on.  You get the feeling reading these reviews that the writers have not even really played the games in any depth, because it's all stuff you'd see in the first few minutes of playing the game, supplemented by instruction manual summaries.

     The editors are also completely in love with "interactive" Hollywood games, and spend page after page going on and on about how cool it will be when all games become choose your own adventures movies.  In fact, once the magazine folded in 1995, the follow-up was Fusion, a magazine devoted to this kind of garbage.

Computer Gaming World

     This mag is highly praised, but I've been very disappointed with it.  The reviews are two or three pages long, but only because 1/4th to 1/3rd of each review is just a plot summary... and then everything but that last paragraph is often a summary of the screen or the instruction manual.  You get the actual review in the final paragraph.  It often feels like the PC equivalent of GamePro!

     The exception is Charles Ardai, who instead spends all two or three pages complaining about how the plot and characters are not as good as in movies, or going into spoiler-level detail nitpicking puzzles.  This guy completely savaged the beloved Under a Killing Moon because he reviewed it as some kind of serious Hollywood movie, seemed offended at the charming jokes, and cruelly criticized lead designer Chris Jones' lovable and fun portrayal of Tex Murphy.  This guy doesn't review games as games, but as Hollywood scripts, so every single one of his reviews is completely worthless.

Edited by newtmonkey
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  • 1 month later...
Posted (edited)

I'm halfway through 1995 in my project to read through a bunch of magazines (Computer Game Review and EntertainmentComputer Gaming WorldEGMElectronic Games, GameFanNintendo Power, PC Gamer, and Super Play at this point).  Not much has really changed for most of the mags, so I'll only comment on new developments and stuff.

 

Electronic Games

This mag folded halfway through '95, and toward the end it got pretty bad.  It lost the pleasant layout inherited from VG&CE, started adding more interview content (normally this would be interesting, but the interviews were not great), and really embraced FMV garbage and other "interactive entertainment" non-games.  At some point you have to wonder who they were actually writing for; certainly not for the people actually buying and playing video and computer games.

 

Nintendo Power

Nintendo around this time launched their "Play it Loud" campaign, a somewhat lame attempt to add some '90s 'tude to compete with Sega's advertising.  It was laughable then and somewhat charming today, but more insidious is some deceptive stuff that starting creeping into the mag from '94 to '95.  One example was the mag explaining in a classic case of PR double-speak that "some" of the "finishing moves" had been "changed" in Mortal Kombat, but why would you want all those nasty fatalities anyway?... and then praising MKII for being completely uncensored, as though Nintendo had nothing to do with the censorship of MK SNES.  Another is how they carefully crop the screenshots of Killer Instinct SNES in their first preview so that the characters seem as large as in the arcade version.  Nintendo didn't need to do any of this stuff ('94-'95 was peak SNES), so it comes off as a bit sleazy imo.

This is the year where they added "Epic Center," a column dedicated to RPGs and strategy games.  As a fan of RPGs, I really liked this column, and it's still cool to read today.  It's a good mix of previews and walkthroughs/strategies, as well as special features like behind-the-scenes stuff.

 

PC Gamer

The quality of this mag dropped quite a bit a few months into '95!  You still get some excellent reviews and columns by their regular writers, but they've added a couple of reviewers that are just awful.  If I read a review of some strategy game, I want to know if the game is complex, deep, and rewarding; I don't want to read complaints about there being no first person action (such as the absolutely ridiculous review of Central Intelligence).  Hopefully this problem will sort itself out during the second half of '95...

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  • 3 weeks later...

I completed my run through the 1995 issues of various magazines I've been reading.  One thing I want to mention is how long the love-hate relationship for FMV games kept going.  It's absurd.  Pretty much every mag fell over themselves to praise ACTUAL VIDEO in video games, only to admit how dumb it is just a few months later.  But then you'd get some FMV travesty that has rendered backgrounds, and then everyone is praising it all over again... this just kept on happening, and by the end of '95 (!) these buffoons were writing about how, yeah, FMV has always sucked, but in this game, it uses real Hollywood stars and is awesome!  The only exception through it all was GameFan.

 

Anyway, here are some comments on each mag:

 

Computer Game Review and Entertainment

I considered just stopping reading this mag halfway through the '95 issues.  Published by Sendai (EGM), it uses a similar review format, which makes absolutely no sense for the complicated PC games that were being released at the time.  You have the same three guys reviewing a dozen games every month, from FMV nonsense to ultra detailed war games.  Each game gets a single paragraph from each reviewer.  As you'd expect, the reviews are completely worthless, with precious space wasted on stuff like graphics (for wargames???) or installation programs.  The only saving grace for this mag is that they cover a LOT of games, so it's good for finding some hidden gems you might have missed back in the day.

 

Computer Gaming World

I really lost interest in this mag in '94, and it didn't do much to win me back in '95.  The magazine ballooned in size in '95, with many issues in the 200-300+ page range, but so many pages are just ads.  The reviews are often ridiculous, because you'll get three full pages per game, but the vast majority of the text is just taken from the instruction manual or listing off all the weapons you can find, or whatever.  One change that was made this year is that their "humor" columnist, Martin Cirulis, started reviewing games... and I found his reviews to be completely unreadable with lots of sarcastic comments about how dumb the story is, etc.  The magazine also was completely unequipped to review the fast action games that were increasingly becoming prevalent on PCs at the time.  For example, every single garbage fighting game gets a good score because the reviewer simply has no experience with fighting games, and is incapable of telling a good one from a bad one.

 

EGM

The layout, and to some extent the character, of the magazine was changed halfway through '95, and while the mag is not really much different, I don't really like it.  The industry made the leap from 16-bit to the first generation of polygonal games, and you get a lot of "why would you want to play these ancient 16-bit games" from these guys.  EGM did the same thing during the switch from 8-bit to 16-bit, and it was similarly annoying then, but somehow even more annoying "now."  I think it's partly because the SNES and Genesis were such a clear upgrade in every way over the NES and SMS, while the early polygonal games have aged much more poorly compared with the last generation of games released for the 16-bit consoles.

 

GameFan

These guys were amazing.  They started out from nothing and could barely write, but somehow were able to become a serious competitor to EGM.  They also did the best job during the transition from 16-bit to the first polygonal systems, retaining the character of the magazine while embracing the future but also respecting the past.  They definitely championed some weird ass games (Hermie Hopperhead????), but it always feels like they did so out of actual admiration rather than shilling.

 

Nintendo Power

Lots of great walkthroughs, but that's really all that's worth reading in the mag.  The reviews are worthless, consisting of a paragraph describing the story/mechanics and then a single sentence each about what's good and bad.  Still a fun mag to flip through.

 

Official Sega Saturn Magazine

This is a new mag with its first issue published toward the end of the year.  It's quite good with some nice reviews, but suffers from reviewers clearly trying to fill up space by being jokey, sort of similar to Super Play.  It's too early to say for sure, but I've noticed some annoying comments about any game that's more complicated than shooting or jumping on a thing, so it will be interesting to see how they cover RPGs and strategy games once they start coming out.

 

PC Gamer

IMO the best PC gaming mag of the time.  The only problem I have with this mag is that they replaced their regular RPG columnist who seemed to not like RPGs at all, with a new guy who also doesn't seem to like RPGs.  His column every single month seems to be about how much he dislikes combat, character building, and exploration, and how he can't wait until the day when every game is online and all you do is have conversations with other real people.  Okay, that is actually what ended up happening with MMORPGs, but it's ridiculous for their "RPG guy" to not actually like RPGs.  Contrast that with their wargame columnist, William R. Trotter, who lived and breathed wargames and appreciated them for what they were; I don't even like wargames, but I read his column in every issue because he's such a great writer, and because his love for and expertise in the genre is infectious.

 

Super Play

I really don't care much for this one.  The SNES doesn't have much life left in it at this point, and it's just not that exciting to read anymore.  I dunno.  They reviewed Romance of the Three Kingdoms IV in one issue and the reviewer came off as a complete dumbass.  If you don't like or get strategy games, don't review them.

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