Of Writing, Updates and Covid.

Hey, I’m back.

First, West Mansion has been updated: https://splatterhouse.kontek.net/new.html

Second, I’ve been writing a lot recently. My long-gestating book Eating Candy in Outer Space is finally nearing completion! It’s the first of three companion books to Memoirs of a Virtual Caveman. Candy focuses on the non-gaming portion of my life: growing up in the ’80s, coming of age in the ’90s, and everything that went with those, from early interests like toys, to the various early loves and losses I had, early work experiences and so much more.

Eating Candy in Outer Space will be followed at a later date by The Chicken at the End of the Street, which picks up where Candy left off, at the dawn of the 21st century. In it, I discuss becoming a father, my first failed marriage, and how I ultimately met and married Bette, as well as the trials and tribulations we’ve endured since, such as the time in 2020 when I nearly died, as well as becoming a grandfather, plus plenty more wacky work stories and other anecdotes.

The third planned book is Digital Archaeology: Retrogaming Recollections. This is a book that I’m only compiling and editing. If you read Memoirs, you’re most likely familiar with the second half of the book, where I invited quite a few friends and colleagues to share their gaming memories. I decided some time ago that those stories were too good to be relegated to a backseat in Memoirs, and they all deserved to be in their own book. This time around, I’ve also put out an open call for more submissions, and a lot of people have already signed up to contribute. The closer the book gets to release, I’ll be revealing just who’s going to be featured in the book. So keep an eye on Twitter and the Memoirs Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/virtualcaveman

Which brings me to the burning question: what about Memoirs of a Virtual Caveman itself? I knew that splitting out the contributor stories into their own book would cause an issue with the book as it stands, but not to worry. I’m also working on it as well! The previous edition may have been called the “Definitive Edition,” but this new edition is going to be the Final Edition. This time, it’s all me. And I’ve already added plenty of new gaming stories from my past, cleaned up some of the errors in the previous edition, as well as making all sorts of other changes. And after this, that’s it. There will never be another “new, improved edition” of Memoirs published. Who knows, there may be an anniversary edition reprinting down the line somewhere, but as far as making any other changes to it, that’s it. After this, it’s done.

Of course, the artiste extraordinaire PrimeOp is handing the cover art duties. Of the four, Memoirs and Candy are done, but I can’t wait to see his takes on my ideas for Chicken and Digital Archaeology.

Okay, what about Covid? I finally caught the damn thing. Warded it off for over two years, only to have it come after me in my own home. It first really hit me one week ago, and I passed the worst of it on Tuesday, but there’s still that damned lingering cough. I’m just glad I was vaccinated, or it could have been a lot worse.

What’s going on with me?

That’s the question, is it not?

Last Monday, I announced yet another hiatus from social media. As much as I try to curate my newsfeeds, stupidity still manages to leak through. Frankly, I don’t need that kind of negativity in my life. So for the past week, I’ve been re-evaluating things.

First, the Dire & Bette videos will be continuing. No worries there.

I’ve taken a small step towards resuming writing. This hasn’t been easy. I’ve faced so many setbacks over the years that I have to wonder if I still have the drive to do so. Then again, maybe I’m just overthinking things. I really don’t know.

The specter of my own mortality is probably playing a factor in this as well. I hit fifty in a couple years, I’m about to become a grandfather again, and I feel like all of my best years, the ones I could have spent working on my writing, are behind me, spent with a woman that didn’t appreciate what I was doing, or me, or even her kids in the end.

But I had drive back then. I was capable of being creative, writing entire novellas while collaborating with some very talented friends.

For the most part, all of that has changed. My friends, the ones I collaborated with, have to deal with what life is throwing at them. Whether the issue is medical, or mental, or just business-oriented, they have to do what they have to do.

I do understand that, and I don’t begrudge them that at all. But I don’t work well on my own. It’s best when I have someone I can bounce ideas off of daily, and it helps if they too are writers. When that doesn’t happen, I backslide. The lack of energy I’ve had since nearly dying isn’t helping either.

Nor does it help anything else. I have a nice stack of videogames I could be playing right now, but instead of doing that, I’ve been binge-watching Frasier. And knowing full well there are fewer years ahead of me than there are behind me, you’d think I’d be doing my best to enjoy that time.

But I’m not.

If only…

Sometimes I wonder…

…if I talk about myself and my accomplishments too much. I realized last night, during a stream I was participating in, that I just couldn’t stop talking about the stuff I do or have done (mostly the latter). I mean, does anyone really want to hear about the lone interview I conducted with Yuzo Koshiro twenty years ago? Or that I was an “unofficial consultant” on Splatterhouse (2010)? Or any of the other boatload of things I’ve done in years past? I feel like I’ve been sounding like a broken record for years now.

I should be listening to the people that are out there now, doing things, making their own names for themselves, instead of constantly interjecting with comments like “yeah, I helped out with what was possibly the first English-language interview with the creator of Strider about a decade ago.” Or at the very least, if I’m going to talk about my ongoing projects, I should just talk about the current ones and try not to be a constant shill for my work in the process, which sounds like a very fine line to tread.

Or maybe I need to just shut up completely, I don’t know. If you plan to comment on this, be honest. I’d prefer it.

Depression, anger and the newness of the old.

So, here I am. It’s been some time since I updated here. But lately, I feel like I’ve been at a crossroads regarding gaming. I posted on my Twitter account not long ago (https://twitter.com/VirtualCaveman) about whether or not it might be time for me to give up gaming. I got a lot of good responses there, and a lot of food for thought.

But as it turns out, my issue didn’t have anything to do with gaming. It has more to do with my state of mental health than anything else.

As some of you may know, in September of 2020, I almost died. This had nothing to do with Covid-19, but rather, fatty liver disease, coupled with an internal bleed. The doctors weren’t sure I would pull out of it, and even advised my wife to prepare for the worst. I remember virtually none of that first weekend, as my brain was swimming in blood ammonia (which I still have to take medication for). When I finally regained consciousness, nearly three days had passed. I was out of the hospital by the end of that week, and back at work the next. This proved to be a problem, as I had not completely recovered. I still had to take time to go to doctor’s appointments, plus there were still days that I just felt sick and had to call in, as they’d usually be followed by vomiting. My employer’s idea of giving me recovery time was to drop my hours to part-time, and then, after a particularly grueling round of appointments, my FMLA time that I had to take in early 2021 was about to run out, and as I was in no real shape to return to work, they considered my request for an FMLA extension as a “voluntary resignation.” Real nice. Luckily, I was able to go on unemployment because of the severity of my illness, although it was a rough couple months until it kicked in.

Because of all of this, though, things changed. I had to change my diet completely, I found myself having trouble driving, and with Covid still running rampant, I was mainly self-isolating due to the liver disease compromising my immune system. There were a few other things that happened as well that I’m not going to talk about here, but the end result was my life-long depression rearing its ugly head for the first time in years. I felt (and still do, to a degree) like a burden to my wife, who not only still works full time, but has her own medical issues to deal with. I’d say the best thing to happen to me in the past year was the birth of my first granddaughter and second grandson (grandson number three is on the way, btw), and while there are times that I’m perfectly capable of helping out my granddaughter’s mother with her, there are times that I just can’t. This bothers me. I know my ex-wife thinks I was a horrible father (and husband), but I did learn a lot back then. I know the stress my step-daughter has to deal with, and I want to do what I can to alleviate that, but there are times I just can’t, and then she has to step in and help take care of me, which is an added burden she doesn’t need.

Believe me, this has not just been a long vacation. This has sucked hard.

This makes me equal parts depressed and angry. And since I’m not about to take that out on anyone, I focused on my games. To an extent, they became something that defines me. I call myself “the Splatterhouse guy,” after all. I brought back West Mansion not just because I knew it would make a lot of people happy, but as a way to re-establish my relevance in a world that’s changed so much from when I first started it. Do I want the “clout,” as the term means these days? When it comes to Splatterhouse, yes. I’m not ashamed to admit that. Back in the first decade of this century, whenever someone thought Splatterhouse, they thought of me and my work. I helped keep the franchise alive, to the point where Namco Bandai came to me when they were making the 2010 game, because I had the connection with the fanbase and I saved them a ton of time in research with the info had gathered on West Mansion.

That’s not the case anymore. Granted, I didn’t help matters any when I shut the site down in 2011 and kept it closed for a decade, but these days, whatever clout I have has dispersed. YouTubers, streamers, and so forth have made it easier to learn about the series than by wading through the multiple walls of text and images I have on the site. I’m still stubbornly hanging onto the old ways, even still hand-coding my own HTML. I’m a Web 1.0 guy in a soon-to-be Web 3.0 world, and I’m having the hardest time adapting.

Pictured: old.

“But why not stream or make videos about Splatterhouse yourself?” some may be asking. Believe me, I’m doing you a favor by not doing that. I’m an ugly fat guy with bad teeth (thanks, non-existent affordable healthcare!) and a weird voice: the very prototypical nerd stereotype, which would be complete if I were a single virgin and living in my parents’ basement. Luckily, I avoided all that.

See? See right there? That’s the depression kicking in. I could have gone back and edited that whole thing out, but no, this is me: warts and all.

Anyway, all that aside, what about quitting gaming for good? Was it something like this?

As it turns out, no, it wasn’t (although there are times when I feel absolutely lousy that it can be). And I just can’t quit, either. It’s been part of my life for far too long. After discussing things with a couple of good friends of mine, plus reading all of the responses on Twitter, I realized something. I’ve been so focused on discussion and writing about games that I haven’t really taken the time to properly play them recently. So it’s not that I want to give them up, but rather, I need to get back to basics and play. I fully intend to take a different approach this time, too, by playing games from genres that usually don’t appeal to me: RPGs, FPSes, sports and such. We’ll see if this works.

Still, they’re going to be games for consoles I already own. I don’t have the cash to afford a Switch or anything past the PS3/Xbox 360 era. So I figure I’ll start with a few of the classics from the time. I have an ongoing quest in Final Fantasy II (SNES) that I intend to get back to. I figure that’s a good starting point. And hey, for the most part it’s all new to me, hence the newness of the old.

Anyone have any suggestions?

Stop snickering.

I’ve decided to cover another early arcade-style title today, one with major historical significance.

Nuts & Milk – Hudson Soft – 1983

Given how Nuts & Milk looks and sounds, you’d be forgiven for thinking that it came straight from the mind of Shigeru Miyamoto himself, but this one’s not by Nintendo. It’s by Hudson Soft. Not only that, it was Hudson’s first Famicom game ever, and the first third-party game released for the console. Talk about a historic piece of software.

You play as the adorable little pink blob with googly eyes and little feet, Milk. Milk’s equally adorable fiancee, Yogurt, who looks just like him aside from the twin hair bows and eyelashes (they kind of have a Pac-Man/Ms. Pac-Man thing going on), is trapped in a house, and he must gather all of the fruit in the stage to open the house, then work his way to said house to get her. But Yogurt’s captor, Nuts (who looks just like Milk but is blue), isn’t going to let Milk get to her without a fight. He relentlessly stalks Milk through each stage, and is sometime joined by more Nuts.

There are so many jokes I could make here…

Anyway, as if the game wasn’t weird enough, helicopters and blimps will fly by. Milk can jump on the helicopters for points, but the blimps will kill him. So will falling in the water at the bottom of the screen. On the plus side, if Nuts falls in the water, it will take him out for a few seconds, which can be a help if you need to get a piece of fruit that he was blocking you from. On top of that, occasionally fireballs (similar to the fireballs from Mario Bros.) will appear. Avoid those at all costs.

Milk gets around by jumping and climbing on chains, similar to the ones from Donkey Kong Jr. There are also strategically placed springboards as well. The screen wraps around too, so Milk can exit either side of the screen and appear on the opposite side. However, Nuts is equally skilled at climbing and jumping, and he will pursue you no matter where you go. He’s like the Terminator, if the Terminator was a cute blue blob with huge googly eyes.

Every third stage is a bonus round, where you must gather fruit and get to Yogurt before the time runs out. Succeed, and you’ll get a screen showing them standing in a heart-shaped field of flowers, with a giant heart above them. In a surprising change, Nuts & Milk isn’t just played for score. At the end of stage 50, the game ends. The ladders and platforms in that stage even spell out the words END.

That’s Nuts & Milk in a nutshell (pardon the unintentional pun). If you love the golden age of arcade games, it would be worth your time to check it out. Until you can… how about checking out a longplay?

Have a devil of a good time.

Only a few of Nintendo’s early first-party Famicom games didn’t make it across the Pacific. Not counting a good chunk of their Famicom Disk System games, the only ones I can think of offhand were F-1 Race, Gomoku Narabe Renju, Mahjong, Popeye no Eigo Asobi and the subject of today’s entry.

Devil World – Nintendo – 1984

Tamagon the Dragon has been trapped in Devil World, which is basically a big maze surrounded by a moving wall. The Devil sits at the top of the maze, directing his followers to move the wall in the hopes of crushing Tamagon between the moving wall and the walls of the maze. Tamagon isn’t totally defenseless, as he can pick up crosses and bibles (which look suspiciously like the spellbook from the original Legend of Zelda) and shoot fireballs at the Devil’s minions. Hit one of them, and it’ll be transformed into a fried egg, which Tamagon can eat for points. There are three minions: one that looks like a cyclops in a pink robe, a mini-Devil and an orange-robed cyclops. Get killed by one of them, and your next Tamagon will hatch out of an egg.

As one might expect from a game of the era, this wasn’t a game you played to get an ending, you played it to get the high score. To clear the first part of each maze, Tamagon has to eat all of the dots scattered around, but he can only eat the dots while holding a cross. There are also bonuses that occasionally appear, in the form of ice cream cones that travel along the moving wall. In the second part of each maze, Tamagon has to gather the bibles floating around in the corners and use them to fill the gaps in the walls of the center chamber (can’t miss it, it’s marked with a skull). Once the gaps are filled, the Devil transforms into a small bat-like demon and flies away. To round things off, there’s a timed bonus round called “Bonus Box,” in which Tamagon must get the bonus boxes floating around the maze. Arrows on the floor will change the direction the maze is scrolling when they’re walked over.

As you’ve undoubtedly guessed by now, this was Nintendo’s attempt at making a Pac-Man style maze game. There are definitely enough unique twists in it to separate it from all the other Pac-clones out there, so it’s not just another walk in the maze like the ones that helped cause the Great Crash of ’83 in the U.S. One might suspect that the overabundance of Pac-clones in the early ’80s was why Nintendo chose to pass on releasing it in the U.S. (it did get a European release), but I’m pretty sure the main reason can be summed up in three words: the Satanic Panic. With the hardcore Evangelical Christians rallying against pretty much everything that could “corrupt the children” (and I blame Phil Philips’ book Turmoil in the Toybox for a lot of this fearmongering), do you honestly think a game called Devil World, starring Satan himself, was going to be released without a major outcry? I don’t think so!

It never received a sequel, but Devil World wasn’t forgotten by Nintendo (unsurprising, as it was the first Famicom game that both Shigeru Miyamoto and Takashi Tezuka worked on). The sound of Tamagon’s egg hatching when he respawns was later reused in Super Mario World as the sound of a hatching Yoshi (could Tamagon and Yoshi be related? Anything’s possible). Tamagon himself appeared as a trophy in Super Smash Bros. Melee (GameCube), and the Devil appeared as an assist trophy in Super Smash Bros. Brawl (Wii), as well as the subsequent SSB games. He also appeared in the Asian-exclusive Wii game Captain Rainbow. References to Devil World have popped up in other Nintendo games as well.

Frankly, it’s a shame that Devil World was never released in the U.S.. It’s a fun Pac-Man variant, and it would definitely have been appreciated by those that enjoyed arcade-style games. Check out this longplay to see it in action.