CLOCK TOWER 3 and How it Shaped Modern Survival Horror
This video was sponsored by Trade (suspenseful music) One of the most essential and yet also under- appreciated elements of a good horror story… Is comedy. - Ophelia, call the police... (jingle) - Sure. Playing 'Fuck the Police' by NWA ('Fuck the Police' by NWA playing) - You see, moments of levity or funny gags can be critical to the pacing of a good horror story. Far from distracting from the overall experience, these brief changes in tone can often make for some of the most memorable scenes in what is otherwise a terrifying tale.
- (croaking voice) "Lonnie... get your ass away from there!" - It’s a way to ensure that the scary moments hit that much harder: to laugh and smile alongside characters forges an emotional bond, or sometimes it just gives the audience a brief moment to catch their breath... - She is lyyyyin' like motherf... I know that- Ooooh that TSA shit tingles! This motherfucker's lyin'! - ...right before it gets ripped away again. But horror media has a way to walk a very fine line with tone. Too much humor and the horror won’t land, blowing right past camp into the realm of parody.
But you can easily have the opposite problem as well: With too little humor, it can feel like a totally joyless slog- -something you have to endure rather than experience. But when you have just the right amount of humor for the story you want to tell in the mix, the results… can be sublime. - (laughing) We did alright this time flyboy, how 'bout it! - Ooooweee! - Over here! (laughing) - That’s true for horror movies, and it’s even more true for horror videogames. Most games have much longer run-times than the average movie, which means that striking the right tone is absolutely critical to making a horror gaming experience feel consistent and complete. There is one classic survival horror game in particular that has always had a special place in my heart for how expertly it balances its tone. This game tells a well-paced story that also knows when to slow things down for a heartfelt exchange between characters...
...While also being genuinely tense and frightening in the moment-to-moment experience of playing it- -not just during pre-determined jumpscares or chase sequences. This is a game that truly emphasizes the SURVIVE part of “survival horror.” There’s no power curve to climb, and no faceless hordes to blast your way through. With minimal resources and few means of defending yourself, you’ll be struggling against singular and seemingly unstoppable foes in a desperate bid for survival. That is until it’s time to do your best Revolutionary Girl Utena impression and unleash magical-girl hellfire on your pursuers. (epic swoosh) But I’m getting WAY ahead of myself here, we’ll get to this very important point later.
The game I’m talking about is, of course, Clock Tower 3. The third and final main entry in Human Entertainment’s legendary Clock Tower trilogy. Q-Quadrilogy actually. Clock Tower 3 might just be one of the most slept-on, under-rated, and otherwise overlooked survival horror gems of all time. This is not only a top-tier classic survival horror game in terms of presentation and play, it also feels like the ultimate culmination of the narrative and mechanical threads the Clock Tower series had been building upon since its very first entry.
- "Alyssa, where are you?!" - But it took a long and winding journey before the series would finally arrive at this destination... (Monsters of the Week title theme playing) Alright, before we go on, a thank you to Trade Coffee for sponsoring the making of this video! Anyone who’s been following me for a while knows that I’ve been a big coffee lover for ages. So, I was actually really excited to partner up with Trade. It is a great service through which you can discover amazing coffees directly from local roasters. They have a really cool process to match your own personal selection of coffee to you.
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Free shipping is included and Trade guarantees that you’re gonna love your first coffee So, if you should not enjoy it, they’ll ship you a different bag for free! So, thanks a lot again, and now that I got my coffee, we can continue with the rest of the video! (mechanical clock mechanism) Human Entertainment released the first Clock Tower game in 1995, a Japan-only Super Famicom title, which was later ported to the Playstation 1 and Windows 95 with the subtitle “The First Fear” in 1997. With a mix of point-and- click adventure mechanics, bone-chilling sound design, and some incredibly disturbing 16-bit art, (high-pitched scream) the game was a low-budget and highly experimental homage to the movie director and “Master of Horror” Dario Argento, and his unique brand of giallo filmmaking. There’s no real combat in Clock Tower, or means to defend yourself, so running and hiding is your prime resource as you delve deeper and deeper into the haunted Burroughs Mansion. And as you explore and try to escape, you’ll be relentlessly stalked and hunted by the gruesome and iconic Scissorman.
(splash, high pitched scream) And as soon as he catches you, it’s game over. Oh sorry, "Dead End." (another high pitched scream) Now, this might seem like a bone-simple concept for a game, especially when judged by modern standards. But at the time, Clock Tower was equal parts revelation and revolution.
Nothing like this had ever been tried like this before in a horror game- -not even in the 1989 Famicom cult classic horror adventure Sweet Home, which owed far more to the combat-heavy Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest than to point-and-clicks. The first Clock Tower was a solid success in Japan. Many critics saw the game’s hybrid of point-and- click puzzling and thrilling chase sequences as a worthy successor to Infogrames’ Alone in the Dark trilogy. Another iconic series that similarly helped to establish the “survival horror” as a proper game genre all its own. (door shuts loudly) But sadly, the Famicom Clock Tower and its ports were never released in the West, and no apparent effort was made by either Nintendo or Human Entertainment to translate them.
There’s never been an official explanation given for why the game never left Japan, but it doesn’t take a magical girl to crack THIS horror mystery wide open: The SNES was already getting long in the tooth in late 1995, when it came out, and less than 6 months after Clock Tower was released, the mad scientists at Capcom unleashed Resident Evil upon an unsuspecting world. (frightened scream, splash) Horror games would simply never be the same again. So, as usual, it was left to fan translators to do what Nintendon’t. That is to say, since 2001, the first Clock Tower has seen a dozen high-profile fan-translations to make the game playable in English, German, Korean, Spanish, Hungarian, Portuguese, Turkish, you name it.
But as you know, the series wouldn’t end there; two more Clock Tower games came out for the Playstation 1, and thankfully, these would see proper localization outside of Japan. Clock Tower 2 came out in 1996 and serves as a direct sequel to the first game, exploring the origins of Scissorman and the curse of Burroughs Mansion. Somewhat confusingly, the game is titled “Clock Tower 2” in Japan, but just “Clock Tower” everywhere else because it was never released anywhere else. But setting aside the issues with the naming scheme and localization, the PS1 Clock Tower is an example of a truly excellent early 2D-to-3D modernization. The point-and-click mechanics and the run-and-hide gameplay of the SNES Clock Tower were fine-tuned, and then upgraded with the latest and greatest advances in polygonal 3D rendering and high-quality CD audio.
(high pitched scream, stabbing) The sequel featured multiple playable characters, several different game paths and endings to pursue, and even spookier and grislier scares. (suspense-climax music) Some reviewers grumbled about the slower pace of Clock Tower 2’s point-and-click interface, especially when compared to the piping-hot gunplay of Resident Evil. But the game WAS almost universally praised for its art, presentation, story, and atmosphere, including some surprisingly decent voice acting. Clock Tower 2 was an even greater hit than the first game, and helped to establish the series as a cult classic in its own right. This success would inspire the release of a 1998 spin-off game for the PS1, Clock Tower: Ghost Head in Japan, or Clock Tower 2: The Struggle Within as it’s known in western markets. But by this time, series creator Hifumi Kono had stepped down from the director’s chair, and was already making plans to leave Human Entertainment and form his own dev company: NUDE MAKER.
And no, that’s not a gag. That really is the company’s name, and they’re still around making games to this day. Maybe the studio name was a joke about how you’d have to sell the clothes off your back in order to afford the controller for Steel Battalion? Anyway, there was clearly a struggle within the Struggle Within dev team while they were making this game, and it shows. This is generally considered to be, far and away, the weakest title in the series.
The game does play with some interesting concepts, like how the protagonist has a split personality due to a demonic possession, with certain puzzles and even entire branches of the story requiring you to unleash your inner demon at the right moments. But Struggle Within is a letdown in almost every other department: The puzzles are convoluted and counterintuitive, the presentation is almost bafflingly subdued, the sound design is surprisingly lackluster, and the voice-acting puts every cringeworthy 90s horror voice over to shame. - "Everyone's dead, and it's all my fault!" (agonizingly long silence) - "Maybe so..." (epic rap battle meme screams) - It was, perhaps, a sign of things to come. Because a little more than a year after the release of Struggle Within, and with Hifumi Kono and other founding members of the team heading for the exit by this point, Human Entertainment filed for bankruptcy and closed its doors. (flames roaring) (mechanical clockwork rattling) But, as you know, that wouldn’t be the end of the Clock Tower saga.
During Human Entertainment’s bankruptcy proceedings, Sunsoft- -yes, the Neo Geo company- -acquired the rights to the series with the intention of bringing it back with a brand new, highly ambitious entry. Usually, a franchise changing hands in this way is rarely a good sign. But sometimes it is the breath of fresh air it dearly needs, because Clock Tower 3 ended up being a truly excellent– -and by far my personal favorite– -entry in the series and a highly influential cornerstone in the canon of old-school survival horror games.
It stands proud as the absolute pinnacle of the Clock Tower trilogy. A survival horror classic that is intensely creative, chaotic, unique, and just plain weird. (Alyssa screaming) And, no yeah: It’s also scary as hell, and hands down an absolute blast to play.
In bringing Clock Tower back to life on the Playstation 2, Sunsoft knew they’d need to unleash the big guns- -the blaster masters, if you will. (rimshot) So, the publisher partnered with the survival horror maestros at Capcom, who agreed to bring some of their finest designers on board the project, including Kamen Rider character artist Keita Amemiya, and Noboru Sugimura, chief scenario planner for the first Devil May Cry, Resident Evil 2 and Code Veronica. There was one more crown jewel in the super- crew that Capcom and Sunsoft were assembling: Sharing in the directorial duties for Clock Tower 3 would be the renowned Japanese New Wave film director, Kinji Fukasaku. Fukasaku was well-renowned in his native Japan for bringing a distinctive and highly grounded filmmaking style to a diverse array of movie genres. Samurai period pieces, yakuza gangster sagas, and space opera epics. He was also one of the very first directors to make extensive use of the “shakycam” pseudo-documentary style of filming, decades before The Blair Witch Project made “found footage” a film genre all its own.
But western audiences will probably be most familiar with Fukasaku for one of his two most prolific movies: First, for shooting the Japanese half of the classic World War II epic Tora! Tora! Tora!... (plane motors roaring) ...And second, for directing the massively controversial and even more massively influential Battle Royale. THAT’S RIGHT! The director of Clock Tower 3 was also the intellectual founding father of the biggest trend in multiplayer game design of the past half-decade. (head explodes) But really, Fukusaku’s involvement was clearly way more than just a marketing gimmick, (light turns on effectfully) because Clock Tower 3 is absolutely brimming with over-the-top cinematic flair. The game’s environments and characters are without exception striking and larger-than-life, as though the player is participating in an intricate stage play.
This one game where the fixed camera angles serve a much greater purpose than just a genre convention invoked for the sake of it. In Clock Tower 3, they’re a well-integrated part of the visual and dramatic presentation, and one more area where Fukasaku’s directorial hand is keenly felt. And the game’s cutscenes are truly one of a kind: expertly directed and lovingly choreographed, featuring some of the most bleeding- edge motion capture work for 2002- -the kind of tech that at that point had only been seen in mega-budget blockbusters like Lord of the Rings. It’s also important to stress just how impressive these high-polygon character models are for a 2002 Playstation 2 game.
This is a game that still looks great today, almost two decades later, and that’s thanks largely to the cast’s ultra- expressive animations and presentation. Seriously, you can tell that the production team and actors in this game were SO enthusiastic about showing off what this technology could do. It’s goofy, and there are more than a handful of moments that’ll make you say “what the hell is actually happening??” (energetic music) But it’s also... incredibly charming, and it gives the game’s acting its unique overdramatized quality that makes it instantly recognizable.
You could easily use the term Clock-Tower-3-acting, and anyone familiar with the game will immediately know what you’re talking about. Truly one of a kind. (pensive piano music) Young Alyssa Hamilton is just about to turn 15 when she receives a mysterious letter from her mother– -yet another example of a great horror tale starting with a letter, just saying– -this one warns our protagonist to stay away from her family’s ancestral mansion until her birthday had passed. - [Therapist] "And what do we do when we’re told not to visit our family’s ancestral home until our birthday has passed?" - We book the next cab home? Nooooo..... Well but that’s exactly what our fearless, unflinching heroine does! Upon arrival, her mother is nowhere to be found, but Alyssa is instead greeted by the Dark Gentleman. This sinister and theatrical figure immediately sets the stakes for the player: You are small and weak, and perpetually in fear of being overpowered and violated by foes who are much stronger than you.
All you can do is run, and hope they don’t catch you. Alyssa, you see, comes from the “Rooder” bloodline- -basically the Medieval-English equivalent of Sailor Moon. Rooders are young women blessed with magical powers and the ability to commune with the dead, locked in an eternal struggle with demonic forces known as “Entities.” Each Entity commands a cadre of Subordinates, demonically-possessed former humans who seek to hunt down and eliminate the Rooders, so that the unholy hordes can reign supreme over the world.
As the latest in the long line of Rooders, it is Alyssa’s destiny to find out what happened to her mother, face the Entities and Subordinates head-on, and unravel the mystery of the Clock Tower that has haunted her family for generations... It all makes for a pitch- perfect gothic horror tale. And these themes are also expertly woven into the mechanical experience of playing Clock Tower 3.
As Alyssa, you’ll navigate through survival horror labyrinths and solve light inventory puzzles as you attempt to calm the unquiet ghosts haunting the different levels. But rather than blasting your adversaries into the next dimension with magical weaponry or an enchanted camera, Alyssa’s quest requires the exact opposite approach. You’re deliberately supposed to *not* fight these ghosts. Rather, you must calm and free these restless spirits via what the game refers to as “Spiritual Healing.” - [Marvin Gaye] "And when I get that feeling I want (computer voice: SPIRITUAL) healing..." - In practice, that means collecting a keepsake or memento from one part of the level, and returning it to a ghost’s final resting place in another part, in order to allow them to finally pass on to the next world.
(ethereal sounds) Doing so will provide you with useful tools to boost your durability and survivability, and it’s also how you’ll acquire several key items you’ll need to progress in the story. But throughout each level– -and this is really the core of it all, isn’t it- -Alyssa is stalked by the grim and grisly Subordinates, who pursue her with a relentless single-mindedness. If they catch up with you and manage to take a swing anywhere near you, Alyssa doesn’t get directly injured, but her panic meter will start to climb.
In a nod to a similar mechanic from the previous games, once this meter fills up, the player will enter “panic mode.” Alyssa will start flailing wildly as she runs, tripping over herself and stopping dead in her tracks and often ignoring your controller inputs as she quivers in fear. And if a Subordinate lands another hit while you’re in panic mode, it’s GAME OVER. (loud smack, Alyssa screams in pain) Like the previous Clock Tower games, hiding places and interactive hot-spots are dotted throughout the game’s locations. In some cases, they’ll serve as a safe hiding space where you can camp until the Subordinate is thrown off your trail. Other times, they’ll trigger an interactive cutscene that sees Alyssa fighting back and temporarily incapacitating her foe, giving her the chance to flee, momentarily.
- Haaa hahahahaha (electric discharge, screaming) - After being pursued by these bastards for so long, these little moments of retaliation are REALLY satisfying and fun to watch as well. (grunting, chair cracking, dramatic music) Still, for most of the game this is basically the only way you can fight back against the Subordinates. Your sole other means of self- defense is a splash of holy water, which stuns your pursuers for a few seconds- -just barely enough time to escape. But you’ll need to ration your supplies, because holy water is a depletable resource that’s also needed to dispel the many mystical seals impeding Alyssa’s progress. It is classic survival horror resource- management, with a twist: The resource that gates your progress and the game’s only means of self-defense are one and the same. So, after some puzzle-solving and some calming of the unhappy spirits that haunt each area, the players will be thrust into a climactic confrontation with the level’s Subordinate.
And here, the game switches perspective as Alyssa undergoes what can only be described as a true blue magical girl transformation sequence. That’s not really a joke or exaggeration either. This part of the game will see you going full-on super-sentai-Sailor-Moon as you finally get the chance to counter-punch your foes. During these epic boss fights, you’ll carefully aim and charge a magical bow that enables you to “shackle” the Subordinate with your magical energy. And once you pin the boss enough times, you’ll unleash a Final-Fantasy-worthy epic-mega-limit-break attack that is often powerful enough to finish the fight then and there. (ridiculously massive explosion with sheer endless reverb) (clockwork spinning) Which, at last, brings us to the point I was making at the beginning of this video- Which, at last, brings us to the point I was making at the beginning of this video- -how exceedingly well Clock Tower 3 establishes and manages its signature tone.
You see, Clock Tower has a reputation for being something of a… “meme series,” for lack of a better way of putting it. From the very early days of YouTube onward, many a content creator has poked fun at how goofy and over-the-top these games can be, and how their grim and horrific subject matter often seems to be at odds with the earnest and heartfelt tone. But, honestly, focusing ONLY on the goofy moments or the out-of-context cringe does a serious disservice to the many strengths of the series and to Clock Tower 3’s strengths in particular. Part of the reason the magical girl boss fights are so striking and satisfying is because of how well they contrast with the tone of the rest of the game. For 80 to 90 percent of your playtime, you’ll be totally afraid and defenseless, fleeing from overpowering foes. It is intensity that get easily grind your spirits down with its incessant continuity and lay your nerves bare.
So that when you finally get the chance to strike back, it not only makes for a gripping and cathartic boss fight, it equally adds a powerful context to all that time you spent cowering between bathroom stalls and semi-translucent shower curtains. - "Alyssaaaa.. where areee youuuu?" - The scary parts of Clock Tower 3 are that much more frightening because of how the player experiences this rising and falling tension as the narrative progresses, just like the best slasher movies, really. Michael Myers’ killing spree in the first Halloween wouldn’t have been anywhere near as terrifying if the movie hadn’t spent so much time building up the facade of suburban normalcy before it tore it all down.
And the same is true for Jason Voorhees and the poor horny teens of Camp Crystal Lake, or of the hapless road-trippers who spend two-thirds of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre stumbling and bumbling through farmland. - Crap! - And that is equally true for Revolutionary Girl Alyssa. Clock Tower 3 can be a genuinely tense and frightening experience exactly because the game is so willing to wildly change up its tone and turn the audience on their head. It is why I’ve always thought of this game as the perfect playable slasher movie. And this is yet another aspect of the game where the directorial hand of Kinji Fukasaku is clearly evident.
Clock Tower 3 is explicitly about how bewildering it can be for a young person stuck in a hostile and oppressive world, and how often they’re subjected to abuse and exploitation by those in positions of power and authority. (manic laughter) This is a thematic thread that can be seen throughout so many of Fukasaku’s cinematic works, and it is a theme that’s evident in Clock Tower 3 as well. Which brings us to the bigger point here: We’re loooong overdue for a re-consideration of just how influential the Clock Tower games have been to horror game design. Because although Clock Tower 3 maintains a decidedly old-school format with how it mixes point-and-click adventure mechanics with survival horror gameplay, there are multiple aspects of its design that are decades ahead of their time. Nowadays, the biggest-and-baddest survival horror franchise of them all- -the one that outclassed Clock Tower at seemingly every turn back in the PS1 and PS2 era- -has started looking backwards to incorporate some decidedly Clock-Tower-esque design flourishes of its own.
(wall breaking, manic laughter) Indeed, from Resident Evil 7 onwards, all of the series’ major entries have incorporated the concept of the singular, seemingly unkillable uber-foe who dominates and stalks the players through entire areas of the game. The last few years of Resident Evil villains is a roster of fan-favorite stalker-killers: Jack Baker, Mr. X and Nemesis, and the Duchess of Decolletage, The Tenacious Lady D herself hunt the player just as relentlessly and impervious to your attacks as Clock Tower’s incessantly-stalking adversaries, leaving you no choice but to run and hide... ...Until you can finally turn the tables in an over-the-top and cathartic blaze of glory. Hell...Jack Baker even busts out a pair of giant (chainsaw) scissors in that cage match where you’ll face him head on! - [Jack] "Groovy!" - [Ethan] "That's not Groovy!" - It doesn’t get more obvious than that.
Resident Evil, Amnesia, Outlast, P.T., Soma, Layers of Fear- -the number of games bearing Clock Tower’s influence seems to be growing ever larger as years go by. This sea change in public opinion was such that series creator Hifumi Kono and the crew at Nude Maker even tried their hand at a spiritual successor to Clock Tower in 2016: The very lukewarm NightCry.
(dramatic music) (anooother high pitched scream) Sadly, Clock Tower 3 itself was an absolute commercial disaster, falling far short of the half-million sales goal set by Capcom. And critics were also none too keen on the game, panning it for its slow pace, its similarity to the old-school point-and-click format, and its relative lack of bam bam action when compared to the more and more combat heavy direction the shining stars like Resident Evil pivoted towards, especially with the shift brought about by 4. (SUPLEXXXX) - [Leon] "Hooah!!" - And so in many ways, Clock Tower 3 is yet another iconic, highly ambitious and pioneering horror game that is slowly deteriorating into a true “forgotten gem.” At the time of release of this video, there is no way to legally buy and play the game on any of the newer Playstations, 3, 4, or 5. The game was never released digitally on PSN in any countries, Japan included, and was never released on any other console than the PS2.
Currently, a used copy of Clock Tower 3 of the US version will cost you easily between $75 and $100 US dollars. And new sealed copies will fetch easily triple the asking price of used ones, upwards of $300 dollars. And so, if you’ve watched my videos before, you already know the score: Emulation is pretty much the only way for most newly interested players to enjoy Clock Tower 3 in 2021.
There’s a link in the description of this video to a document with some helpful tips for setting up the PCSX2 emulator to run this game (which it does handsomely, I might add, as you can see in this video). - "Come on Alyssa!" - For survival horror devotees or anyone who enjoys a solid classic horror adventure, it’s more than worth your time to seek out and play, either via emulation or on the original hardware. Clock Tower 3 is a key piece of survival horror history.
A truly under-rated milestone of horror game design whose influence can be felt in so many of the modern masterpieces we’ve gotten to enjoy over the past decade. Though they may be gone and in danger of being forgotten entirely, there will always be a place of pride in the survival horror pantheon for the Clock Tower games, and to me, for Clock Tower 3 especially. This is a title that is in so many ways emblematic of that “golden age” of late-90s, early-2000s survival horror. These games weren’t mechanically perfect, polished-to-a-mirror-sheen blockbusters, no.
But they WERE wild, creative, experimental, and all the more memorable for being so utterly unafraid to get weird. And few games embody the ethos of this era as well as Clock Tower 3, which is why it was so inspirational to so many horror game designers that came after, and why its influence can still be felt today. Because just like hands spinning on the dial, it’s only a matter of time… Until the Clock Tower's chimes again. (mechanical clockwork spinning) (great, atmospheric soundtrack of NORCO) Thank you so much for watching! As I’ve said before, for anyone who got curious to play Clock Tower 3 for themselves, you’ll find a link on how to emulate it with the same settings I’ve used to record the footage in this video, in the description! Now, for anyone who discovered me through this video, hey, I'm Ragnar and on this channel I cover old games, horror games, indie games or combinations thereof and try bringing attention to titles that have fallen into obscurity as well as outstanding indie games that I want people to not miss out on! In this credit segment I’m showcasing mpressions of Norco, an awe-inspiring southern gothic cyberpunk narrative adventure which is currently in development and of which the demo was just released on Steam.
The game’s aesthetic, style and atmosphere is truly mesmerizing and hard to pin down; it's set in an indeterminate future in a sprawling industrial refinery complex along the swampy Mississippi. A somber mystery story whose presentation reminds me of my Amiga 500 days, telling a pensive tale rooted in nostalgia, melancholy, and familial regret with prose that comes across gloomy, picturesque, and feverish like a William Gibson tale. I don’t have the space this in this segment here to describe it in the scale that it would deserve, but this demo blew me away and put the game firmly on my radar; it’s easily one the most intriguing, well- written, and constructed interactive fictions I’ve come across since Disco Elysium. And it’s finally a game that iterates on Pathologic 2’s phenomenal mind-map feature; I’ve been hoping for this to happen. So, link’s in the description. Go grab the free demo, and if you like it, wishlist! Don’t miss out on this one! Lastly, to plug my own work, making these videos and the financial support of everyone who partakes in the production is in big parts crowdfunded, so If you’d like to help us shed light on more forgotten and overlooked gems in the future, then it’d be a great help if you considered dropping a buck or two over on my Patreon.
As a reward you can get access to high quality versions of my videos one to several days before public release, as well as the chance to eave your mark in the credits. The support makes a tremendous difference. It’s the de-facto financial backbone of this channel. So, thank you for considering and thank you to everyone who supports me there already! And a special thanks this time goes out to: www.patreon.com/RagnarRoxShow Until next time... ta ta! And thanks again to Trade for sponsoring the making of this video.