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A Critical Examination of Hollow Knight's Art Style

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What makes Hollow Knight such a beautiful game? We take a look inside the breadth of Hallownest. Figure out Hollow Knight's secrets hidden in its game design and why it works so well! Thanks for tuning into this week's art examination. MUSIC: Official Hollow Knight Soundtrack by Christopher Larkin FOOTAGE: All footage was either captured myself or appropriately cited in-video. Here are the links to the content used. The Embraced One: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JgZu-bHydaA&t=20s Help the forge reach 100,000 subscribers!!!
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Text Comments (197)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rMsKRvkhNK4&t=25s Grimm Troupe DLC, anyone?!?
Bread Chips (1 month ago)
The Superforge Silksong anyone?
Sporkasaurus (6 days ago)
4:41 Don't you mean art director, not art directors
omnomization (11 days ago)
Late to the game and a big fan of your Hollow Knight lore videos! With that said, I was pretty disappointed by this video. I'm a game dev and more specifically an artist, so I was hoping for a more in-depth video about color scripts, motifs, and iconography. Or at least some footage of other media that illustrates alternative examples to the techniques/methods used in Hollow Knight. For videos about specific topics like this, it might be worth bringing in a guest, consulting an expert, or at least getting multiple insights (apologies if you did).
Tomass Ali Rikens (25 days ago)
It just works.
ShadowErus (26 days ago)
Complementary colours dont depict unease lol, and how can you argue orange was used to contrast blue when the orange infection is used in every environment in the game
Oleg Oleg (26 days ago)
ok...i didn't get the first part with the fps but everything else makes sense to me
Wagner Vieira (1 month ago)
Is it just me or does someone else think the Hollow Knight would be a great anime?
XzoahX (1 month ago)
Invest in a pop filter. I can hear the inside of your mouth. It's gross.
CarpeDiem (1 month ago)
it sounds like you don't work in the industry and you don't have professional experience so why make videos where you explain what you don't understand? I only watched half the video and it's full of mistaken assumptions.
Pan Limak (1 month ago)
The thumbnail is lineart but the video is color and animation. Those are different topics mate.
Henrique Erzinger (1 month ago)
Is that it? Different frame rates and basic color theory? I expect more of this video from the title, but then again, should have noticed the length before clicking...
al capone (1 month ago)
i’m trying to imagine the huge ego and/or complete lack of self-awareness an individual must have to make a video on a topic they’re clueless about. wow. like what the fuck are you talking about? the enemies are being rendered at a slower frame rate? everything is hand drawn, dude. the amount of frames are contingent on what the devs decided looked like a complete movement. did you not take 5 minutes to do the most basic of research?
I think it’s also worth noting that many characters, especially the knight, are nearly or entirely grayscale. Throughout the game, the Knight always firs in to the aesthetics of the area for this reason, alongside being both dark and light in sections, which works well with the lighting in all areas.
S (1 month ago)
buy a pop filter
Goodnight Grimoire (1 month ago)
Thanks for the breakdown. It was really helpful!
Meme Theif (1 month ago)
HE KILLED MYLA, GET HIM
Charlotte Bowman (2 months ago)
I was hoping for some explanation as to why you see all these characters and say "oh cute!" every time even though spiky white shapes with souless dark eyes should be spoopy and not adorable - there is so much to unpack on how gesture and pose affect one's opinion of the character sprites, and how the voice acting says so much about each character without saying anything at all! So much has gone into the character design, especially as they have taken animals not normally considered 'cute' (insects, isopods, etc. - I find them adorable of course) and somehow used bug eyes, sticklike limbs and characteristic carapaces to their advantage to make this world complete. Also the melancholy atmosphere? The emotions invested towards these little bugs? 'eh the woodlice don't have a kingdom anymore' vs 'this mighty and beautiful empire has fallen and the little miner bug who just wanted to sing is now a zombie husk :'( ' The environments are so well crafted and it's not just strong colour schemes! Enemies adapted to each environment! Subtle changes in the architecture buried under the foliage or fungus! The music! Colour schemes are important, the frame-rate thing was due to budget and programming limitations, but there is so much more to discuss with this game!
Oh Ok (2 months ago)
Am I the only one that gets kinda scare after seeing this videos about the game with gameplay on the background and seeing how hard is going to get? Like yeah, duh, is going to get harder, but the bosses and areas look painfully hard as you progress
Nathan Brown (2 months ago)
Prob one of my main gripes of this game is how the forgotten crossroads becomes infected and becomes harder to move around with there being no way to remove it
Bum B (2 months ago)
For some reason, I never watched this.
Errold Tumaque (3 months ago)
the first time the stag came through, i was like "Whoa" sick art and mix of effects
Ennyx (3 months ago)
Good video but the title is kinda misleading. Also contrast is pretty much the most basic thing about art style :p Id be interested in deeper thoughts!
Austin Bowers (3 months ago)
I would say that the talk of fps and animation style has little to do with this games art style and direction.. It shouldn't have been the main focus on this video. Partially yes, fully no... It was one of the last things on the artist's minds. I imagine it going like this, "Hey bill, about to start on the animation for the characters, do you care if it's 30fps or 60?" "Nah Tim, 30's fine" That simple, no philosophical thought about it..
Andrew c (3 months ago)
As soon as I hear the game I'll be able to watch more of your videos. Thanks for not spoiling the game to show what you mean to show
Agent 4W (4 months ago)
All I know Is that I need that many lives NOW
eiennosenshi (4 months ago)
Why do I keep replaying this video? Seem like I really like it.
The Atomic Dom (4 months ago)
The phrase "pointless redundancy" is ironic XD. Sorry to be a pedant. Great vid.
Axcel Styleon (4 months ago)
nice headbutt 5:02 but not very effective
0h Nutty (4 months ago)
oof I wanted more than just color palettes
Bit Bandit (4 months ago)
I disagree that complementary colors evoke a sense of unease.
Mira Archer (4 months ago)
Wow, there are a lot of negative comments. I personally like the video! :)
Crystalitar (5 months ago)
Ok you did art style. but i want art design.. as in why are the characters designed so simple yet feel so endearing, still feel a part of the more detailed shaded and designed backgrounds and environment. An anylasis of that?
Blind Valkyrie (5 months ago)
do you work on other youtube channel's your voice is really familiar
sukhWins (5 months ago)
Pointless video...ofcourse the sprites would not be 60fps because they are hand drawn
God Of Nothing (5 months ago)
a shmoother framerate
Olivier Gelling (5 months ago)
I find myself coming back to videos like this one because your critique here is just so damn fine. Shining a light on the artwork of HK is something I haven't seen enough of, but your calm and thorough commentary just makes it very nice. Thanks for making these videos!
Der Einzige (5 months ago)
Frankly, this video is an embarrassment. I'd suggest you'd delete it.
Luciano Ravenna (6 months ago)
just lets see the story of hello kitty and u understand that magic
Chris de Bruin (6 months ago)
And how the tinyest diffrence in the develepnent coeld have ruined this game
Chris de Bruin (6 months ago)
It is wierd that you dont notice the most things but you do feel it
Evan Moore (6 months ago)
Calls the game's praise "redundant". Praises the game. Fluidity is not minimal, but colloquially I know what you're trying to say. I imagine some art history scholars are mad at you haha
M.A.D Dragon (6 months ago)
Those aren’t leaves at kingdoms edge I’m afraid. They’re shedding shin of the pale kings old form as a wyrm
Louis Bilman (6 months ago)
1. Hollow knight is a great game but I absolutely hate the character art. The characters look like they’re from a flash game from the nineties. Compare it to cuphead, a gorgeous game and you’ll see what I mean. 2. I don’t like what your doing with your voice in this video. It’s like your trying to make it sound cool by making gravely at the end of your words like the guy who narrates trailers for action movies. Just be yourself man.
Marcus Meira (5 months ago)
"Compare it to cuphead(...) and you'll see what I mean" is a phrase that REALLY makes you feel like you're stating a fact and not an opinion and that comes across as rude. On the subject of character art, I strongly disagree with you. Not because Cuphead is not gorgeous, because it is, but because Hollow Knight has what I think is one of the most original and interesting character designs I have ever seen in a game. And I prefer Hollow Knight's visuals than Cuphead's.
Sock Hands (6 months ago)
Sorry but you failed to realize this doesn't make any sense because people can't see framerates about 24 fps.
Renan Rocha (6 months ago)
Perfect!
Igni Ferroque (6 months ago)
Oh man. Learn something about the technology of games before you talk about it.
Fehrplay (7 months ago)
I love these transition parts betweens areas.
Vividly (7 months ago)
What do you mean 'why does it work'? If the art is good, it always works. Period. Trying to think that art like this doesn't work because of the way it looks is unsubstantiated and biased. Its like the same argument of, "the games graphics need to be good to be a good game". Don't read it literally, but interpret in a comparison where people criticize the graphics and nothing else, thinking that things they don't find appealing = bad game.
justtrolin (7 months ago)
The fluidity of on scree movement reminds me of ps1 castle Vania: symphony of the night.
Or maybe the characters are in 30-24 fps because is animation? And faster animation looks kinda weird
Artistic Lion (2 months ago)
Pablo Andres Matias Barrios Vargas it is because it is hand drawn
Rathernot Disclose (8 months ago)
4:42 "something art directors of this game had quite a grasp on" .. didn't this game have 2 developers? lol.
Dimitri (8 months ago)
the lead artist/team cherry owner had an animation studio called mechanical apple, you can see hollow knight style on the two vm he directed
Sam Torres (8 months ago)
Framerate has nothing to do with image speed in an animation
littlegodpan1 (8 months ago)
Some great insight in this video! Thanks for posting.
FollowNoMr (8 months ago)
This is the dumbest video I ever have ever watched. Had to stop half way through my brain melted from the idiocy.
Amigps01 (8 months ago)
Fungal wastes....orange? Dude that area is literally dominated by that green/gray/blue dark color that all the mushrooms have which covers basically the entire surface of that area. The color orange in the fungal wastes is used to designate things that can hurt you.
Martial Artist (8 months ago)
It's a beautiful game I just got on the switch.
Tenvian Rabbit (9 months ago)
alright a little... A little much on the spoilers there dude. >.>
I was actually never interested in castlevania type games, I played exclusively fps games and rarely strayed from those games. I didn't have much money in my steam wallet, so I went to the discount section of steam. I saw hollow knight for 30% off so I bought it, thinking it was a mario-type game. I didn't understand the game and didn't like it at first, but as I went through the game, i started liking it more and more. As of now i have 60 hours in the game and have 103% completion.
Aggnog (10 months ago)
4:41 xD Art directors? Its one guy.
Ariel Goldman-Konigsberg (11 months ago)
goddamn, this has got to be the most civilized comment section I've ever seen.
Kaya Eliçin (11 months ago)
Explanation about colors is good. Devs say it is not intentional but it is how color in visual arts work anyway. I couldn't understand the point of frame rate difference between characters and background. It would make us easier to distinguish them. Is there any point to it apart from that?
Sprazzic (1 year ago)
Moving sprites are hand-drawn, which is why they aren't animated at 60fps, and you're analogy of the Queen's Gardens is, as far as I know, false. Queen's Gardens is green and white. Green because of vegetation, obviously, and white because in Hollow Knight white identifies royalty (White Palace, White Lady, Pale King etc.). The Orange/Red of the thorns isn't there to symbolise conflict, but to make it easily distinguishable as a hazard.
L4UR (1 year ago)
when he said most computers will be displayed at 60 fps he probably didnt mean mine which is at 9 that is why i dont play hollow knight
Dragon Fire3 (1 year ago)
You should totaly play it
OnyxHook (1 year ago)
There’s a difference between an art style and an animation style.
Kukatoo (1 year ago)
I don’t think you understand. This game utilizes tradition animation. The “choppy frame rate” you talk about is just a result of hand drawing each frame, where more frames means more drawing. Movements that are smooth are a result of the computer, where each frame is not individually drawn. To make all the character/object animations 60fps to match the camera, it would require an arguably unnecessary amount of work.
James Lee (1 year ago)
How is that a 'critical examination'? You just talked about framrates of the animations, which in reality, the low framerate is due to no one will ever animate a hand drawn character in 60 fps. The second point you just said it uses complementary colours (everyone learned that in the first art class in school) Thats it. I am not sure if this is a troll video that is suppose to be funny or you actually tried to publish an unfinished video?
dialog_box (1 year ago)
i'm generally a fan of most of your videos, but yeah this really didn't say anything new and was honestly an absolute waste of 7 minutes
Nico Contreras (1 year ago)
Those long words tho...
Hej San (1 year ago)
FYI: The characters are hand drawn and HAND animated. So they draw it in 12-30 fps because 60fps would be too many frames to draw by hand. The particles are generated by code, so it can draw in an unlimited fps. Nothing special here...
Ape Mayor (1 month ago)
+JayJapanB Yeah, for EACH ASSET
JayJapanB (3 months ago)
+Austin Bowers The entire game was drawn by one person over years and it was, at that time, unfunded. I doubt there was really a "few more hours" for each asset.
coute 21 (3 months ago)
+Austin Bowers 100% at 60 fps wouldn't be an issue?! That's a TON of extra work. A TON. I am 100% sure you have never animated anything in your life. Look closer at the game. Those are not crappy 2006-esque Flash bone-tween animations - those are hand-drawn!
Austin Bowers (3 months ago)
If the creators of the game wanted to have the game 100% at 60fps, then drawing extra frames per character wouldn't be issue. That would be the dedication for what they're going for. The same could be said for the other end of the spectrum. If they wanted the game to be 100% a 12- 30fps game, then it's not difficult to make particle effects slow down due to some code or a filter, or even recording the effect for a long time, slowing it down in post, and then playing a long loop over a scene. I will state that fps isn't what should be the main focus of this topic. Partially yes, but not as much as it is in this video. 30fps is perfect when considering animation, not much need to go more, but it can be done. Also, just for the sake of argument, I would like to point out that the comment about it being "too many frames to draw by hand," is laughable. There is not a such thing as too many.. It's like saying to an artist that, that level of detail is just too much, too impossible.. And yet it is possible. It's incredible the number of hours that it has taken to make this game to, in my opinion, perfection. Dedicating a few more hours to make each animation 60 frames of art wouldn't be anything compared to just the set pieces alone.
Ben Broadhead (1 year ago)
I am actually learning to develop games and the fact that this was made on unity as well as cuphead makes me excited to make something like it
James Lee (1 year ago)
Bender No, starts off small. You WILL get burnt out if you tried something like Hollow Knight.
Dikk Bumm (1 year ago)
Stop trying to defend this peice of shit game. Platformers are dead. If you wanna play a platformer play mario, if you wanna play a good game, play call of duty or battlefield. Dont play shit like this.
Hugh Janos (1 year ago)
Dikk Bumm sick bait dud
Maethen Dias (1 year ago)
makes a video about artstyle doesnt actually talk about artstyle lmao
Athlon (1 month ago)
Click bait for me
Samuel Mendoza (4 months ago)
Yeah... he talked about a single concept in art and it wasnt even style it was choice of color pallet.
Limonero (4 months ago)
thought the same
Safety Kitten (1 year ago)
Will be watching this again, and sharing the video. Myself and some friends stepping into the indie game development scene, are fascinated by this. I am the art director of our game, and I come up with a lot of the concepts. I will be noting a lot of this, and certainly trying to manipulate the color wheel like you have shown hollow knight does.
drgeppo (1 year ago)
Now we need a critical examination of Rain World art style
TheRainySky (1 year ago)
Complementary colors are not off putting or weird looking, quite the contrary they are extremely harmonic and go well together in the right ratio. Eg orange blue looks best at about 30-70 (any battlefield cover) but red green looks best at 50-50.
Wowbagger (1 year ago)
The strongest inspiration, as far as I can tell, is the 'Art Nouveau' style of the late 1800s to early 1900s.
Timothy Kirby (1 year ago)
You must be new to video games... In what game does sprites animate at 60fps? That would be an incredible amount of work! Also, look back to the SNES. A character's running animation might only have four sprites. This is nothing new. Back then it was also to save memory, but it's the same idea. A 3-D rendered model can easily animate at whatever framerate, but something like a sprite that is handmade frame by frame would be an incredible amount of work and also very unnecessary.
Quincy Pettaway (1 year ago)
I really want this game but I have no money! :(
Death Maze Challenge (1 year ago)
this was not really a critical look at the art style. it's more of a generic youtube rant.. sorry. you're not going into any significant details, your comments about FPS are nonsense, the opening idea that the art style has so many sources of inspiration is not explained, your assumptions are wrong, and you provide very little to no insight. you're just saying: it's so beautiful cuz they've done such a good job at making it so beautiful. bravo.
Samuel Mendoza (4 months ago)
Sorry to say i fell for this a bit then checked the comments and i realized i was duped. This deserves to be called clickbait, his title says “ in depth” and his thumbnail is the knight with sketches of him so i assumed it would be legit analysis from an actual artist’s view but he started talking about frame rate and color pallet and honestly thats all i took away which is pretty much stuff i knew myself and a non artist could tell me. Disappointing.
Godzilla (5 months ago)
I'm glad people are fed up with this. The difference between a 'discussion' and 'analysis', respectively, is that they one talks about something, and the other breaks down something. When you walk away with some actual knowledge on the subject, you've just watched an analysis. When you don't get that, you just walked away from a discussion. And not an entertaining one. Something like RedLetterMedia belongs to the former. It's not exactly eye-opening, but it's entertaining nonetheless. I suppose the latter would be something like SuperEyepatchWolf. There, you actually learn shit.
iwanfishz9 (5 months ago)
Just another nerdwriter type video made by people who want to sound smart on a subject they have little to no experience in. Lmao
Death Maze Challenge (1 year ago)
the 2D animation is obviously low frame rate because it's 2D animation. duh. 12 fps is usually more than enough, but here and there much lower frame rates can be enough, depening on what exaclt needs to move. any 2D game that contains sprite animation has to do this. the character's cylinder moves around at max fps, can be 60 or 120 or whatevs.. it has to be as accurate as possible. the sprite art tho.. that remains at a low fps. even a static drawing that is moved around a bit, for a short amount of time, can look quite alive in some cases. so yeah, low fps for sprites, max fps for the in-game entity / cylinder. it works. lots of games do it. there is no phylosophy behind this, just technical, real-world limitations.
Daikyosenshi (1 year ago)
Beautiful scenery? What about ori?
Dev Micco (1 year ago)
Dev here. The sprites are animated that way because of budget way before any of this about this contrasting frame rates stuff. Also all the actions are almost all 1frame start up slashes with follow through so you're just sorta placing too much into it. The backgrounds are animated that way due to being programmatic instead of hand drawn, and there are some exceptions to what you're describing in the game itself where the background is in fact animated on the same rate as the characters. Color theory wise its nice that you think its this super deep idea for each blend but i can tell you most of the time its just "this looks good, and isnt hard to distinguish" and thats that. This was a good attempt at explaining concepts like this in games and content creators are good for explaining these types of things to the public. So if you need a resource feel free to PM me and get you connected to an actual professional in any dev field so they can give feedback on your videos before you launch them.
DRSG (17 days ago)
Also, animations have only like 5-15 frames which are rendred at 60fps will be very fast. So animation framerate is basically lower than 60fps. Usually, sth around 12.
Henrique Erzinger (1 month ago)
Yeah, but color theory of this level is the basics of basics. Also, blue/orange is probably the most used complementary combination in more cinematographic/atmospheric pieces, just look at big budget movie posters. Nothing of it is as grandiose as the video made appear, but it's clear the art direction of the game did have it in mind and knew how to apply it, specially because, as I said, it's the basics.
coute 21 (3 months ago)
I thought the same thing while watching this.
VirgateSpy (4 months ago)
+innegativeion I know right? It'd be kinda like a game designer saying they chose to include a game mechanic just because it "feels good".
VirgateSpy (4 months ago)
One thing does not exclude the other however, there can be good compromise between artistic vision and budget management, and a lot of the time limitations can lead way into creative stylistic choices.
Preston Owens (1 year ago)
In addition to using the complementary color scheme I think there may be a biological facet to why the orange may be sinister, but it’s kinda gross. I’ve noticed in real life that sometimes puss can become an orangish shade and so there may be a subconscious association with the shade of orange and infections or injury. I understand that my analysis is subjective, but those are my thoughts on it. Great video by the way!
ViceGaming (4 months ago)
You were the first comment.
Seth Leoric (1 year ago)
CUPSOULS BEFORE CUPHEAD?
Lyra Rose (1 year ago)
Are you ever going to do Skull girls?
_Paws_ (1 year ago)
I get what you mean when you say _minimalistic_ now. It is not the style or concept of art but the idea of how simple-and-clean how _it_ fits in the environment. Easy to understand.
hackbloc (1 year ago)
Don't know what's worse, your anti-SJW strawman-y gamer countdowns or surface-level design critique video essays with misused artist terminology.
Ape Mayor (1 month ago)
+JakeSpacePirate E imma start using that now
JakeSpacePirate E (1 year ago)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5hfYJsQAhl0
Alison Zable (1 year ago)
THIS GAME IS BEAUTIFUL.
Andres Arancio (1 year ago)
Another reason why the orange is so dramatically off putting: through the whole game you have hitting enemies and pulling out a bright orange splash with each hit. By the moment you face the infection your head has already replaced red of orange as the color of blood and combat
Leo Nachamie (1 year ago)
this is the same guy that does TGN Overwatch lol
sup lol
negatigerx (1 year ago)
Fluid, not fluent. You're talking about a game's art style, not a spoken language.
Still Alive (1 year ago)
Amazing video, keep going :)
Rob DC (1 year ago)
Not to mention the game was made by 4 people if you include the composer
Sannidor (1 year ago)
I got super burned out by this game after 10+ hours. Never played expansion. Have they fixed punishing grind and (no pun intended) bugs?
Shredini (1 year ago)
Gahdamm your voice is so close to yungtown. Fuck I watch too much youtube
Tykei (1 year ago)
Lovin this series, keep making more! :D
Yuanyuan Qu (1 year ago)
i feel like you could've done better on explaining a few things. plus, a lot of the color choices/framerates you decided to focus on were kinda necessary. nobody's going to hand-animate at 60 fps, animators would never get anything done. the choice for red in queen's gardens was also necessary, since otherwise people are going to think the thorns aren't dangerous. i think you could have expanded on the choice for white and how it represents the queen/royalty. plus lighting, lineart, and design. i came in here expecting a breakdown on the lineart of the characters and really the art style of the characters, and while i kinda got that, it was really pale (ha) and washed out. i think you could've gone a lot deeper into the artistic choices, lighting, mood, and possibly music, which translates to a more in-depth video. also good job on picking possibly the most spoiler-y clip of gameplay. tl:dr good job, except you probably could've done better and made it more focused on more interesting subjects
niahaz1 (1 year ago)
Question from a zero in art: If complementary colors are suppose to evoke imbalance and fell weird, than why for example green and red seems so friendly and inviting for Christmas?
Dave Canela (1 year ago)
Interpreting colors is in many ways a cultural thing and people come up with all sorts of interpretations. Orange/Blue, probably the most used color combination in films and games (seriously, once you see it, you can't unsee it, whether it's posters, color-graded scenes or anything else) ,provides a pleasing but stark contrast (I've never heard of the imbalance thing). Any emotial qualities attributed to it depend a lot on context, though, I would say. E.g. it's easy to think of orange/fire/skin tones to represent life vs. blue/cold representing death in many cases, I'm sure. The latest trend at least in games that I seem to notice over the past couple of years is less orange/blue and more cyan/magenta, which lacks that element of warmth but can look beautiful, too.
Yuanyuan Qu (1 year ago)
because we associate the colors with christmas. though, really complementary colors are "complementary" for a reason. they go well together. they balance each other by being opposites. the reason why the citrus orange/blue looks ominous instead of friendly is because it's a teensy bit off the complementary pair. the orange is more of a yellowish-orange, and we often associate that with sickness (and red, though red is more of a friendly color) and disease. plus, the orange naturally contrasts with the blue, but that association of yellowish-orange with disease is what makes it "wrong." he didn't really explain that too well in my opinion. associations can really affect how you feel about colors. (note: my art teacher doesn't really explain stuff like this, so take this comment with a grain of salt) EDIT: spelling error
sorbet (1 year ago)
I’m not entirely sure, but I think the video got the whole imbalance thing wrong. Complimentary colors like green and red look good together because they are just that: complimentary. They complement each other. I don’t really understand how it works exactly, so you may want to look into it further.

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