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.

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.

An incredible crisis.

Never let it be said that I don’t (eventually) give the public what it wants.

Crisis Force – Konami – 1991

Not a single one of Konami’s Famicom shooters could be considered “bad”, or even “average”. All of them were outstanding. But only a couple of them could be considered “phenomenal”. Crisis Force, Konami’s last Famicom shooter, is one of those rarities.

In the year 199X, Tokyo City is attacked by the mechanized forces of the lost civilization of Atlantis. All seems lost, until two twins, Asuka and Maya, who are descendants of the people of the ancient civilization of Mu, board their Aura Wing fighters and begin a counterattack. Their battle will take them from Tokyo City to the heart of Atlantis, where the Atlantean ruler, Pharaoh, awaits them.

The Aura Wings have three forms. The first, Front Offense Type, is strongest against enemies that attack head-on. Side Offense Type fires both to the front and to the sides, making it the most versatile of the three. The final form, Rear Offense Type, is handy for blasting the enemies that come up from behind you. You switch between the three types by pressing A. You also have a stock of bombs that can be triggered by pressing A, but only while you’re holding down B to fire. This setup can lead to some accidental bomb triggers in the heat of battle, which is one of the only flaws the game has.

There are also the requisite speed power ups, of course, and two types of weapon power-ups that can each be leveled three times. Each weapon is used by each ship differently: for example, the wave shot power up used by the Front Offense Type becomes a homing shot when you switch to the Side Offense Type. There are no shields, but every time you get hit, your shot power goes down a level. If you don’t have any power-ups, that’s instant death.

Then there are the items you pick up that resemble blue jewels. Collect five of those without dying, and the Aura Wing transforms into an invincible laser-spewing killing machine. You have a timer which counts down before reverting back to normal, and every time you take a hit, it goes down faster, but if you collect more blue jewels, additional time will be added to the timer.

Now that the basics are out of the way, it has to be said: Crisis Force is gorgeous. I once called Crisis Force “the Axelay of the Famicom”, and years later, I still stand by what I said. The enemies are all colorful and nicely detailed, several of the bosses are screen-filling monstrosities, each stage has new graphical surprises, and there’s even an insane amount of parallax scrolling! It is one of the games that needs to be seen in action to believe. On top of that, it has one of the best OSTs Konami ever came up with for the Famicom. This isn’t a shock, because Konami’s games are known for their fantastic music, but it’s good that they didn’t drop the ball at the very end.

The Atlanteans are a mixed bunch, ranging from standard robots and ships to craft inspired heavily by the work of the ancient Aztecs, Mayans and Egyptians – especially the Egyptians, starting in the later stages. Stage 5 is nothing but an assault against a fleet of ancient Egyptian-themed battleships, culminating with a boss fight against a beautifully detailed multi-screen mega battleship.

Does the game have flaws? Of course. Besides the one I mentioned earlier, it is a bit on the short and easy side – but on the flip side, you can easily be nailed by some cheap hits. Also, instead of composing different pieces of music for every single stage, a couple of the early stage themes were reused in later levels. But those are the only flaws I can think of.

If you like shooters and NES games, you owe it to yourself to play Crisis Force whatever way you can. Until you’re able to, though, why not check out this longplay?

How many notable towers did ancient Babylon have?

I think as far as Namco is concerned, just one: Druaga’s tower (as thoroughly explored in the games The Quest of Ki, The Tower of Druaga and The Return of Ishtar). The story of Gil and Ki was passed down by the people, and became legend. But as was once said, “And some things that should not have been forgotten were lost. History became legend. Legend became myth.” And centuries later, the tower still stands, but is now rumored to be the home of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon.

One intrepid archaeologist is determined to enter the crumbling tower and find the Hanging Gardens.

His name is Indy.

Indy Borgnine.

Babel no Tou – Namco – 1986

And boy, does he have his work cut out for him.

Babel no Tou is a puzzle game. A very devious, insanely difficult puzzle game that involves the proper placement of L-shaped blocks to get to the exit of each floor, which give Indy access to vines and moving platforms. Indy has a limited amount of strength he can use to pick up the blocks (they’re easily as big as he is, and can crush him if handled improperly), but this can be replenished by finding hidden pitchers. There are plenty of treasures scattered around the different floors of the tower, but sometimes they aren’t worth the effort to pick up. The exception to this would be the crystal balls, because sometimes you have to get them to open the exit door.

But it’s not all just moving blocks around, oh no. There are also plenty of creatures guarding the tower (surviving minions of Druaga’s, maybe?). Luckily, most of them can be defeated by crushing them with the blocks. Still, they make Indy’s life just that much more difficult. Luckily there’s no time limit, or he’d really be screwed. Another thing that makes life easier is a password system, as well as the ability to pause the game and view the entire room by pushing up and down on the d-pad.

Now, if you want to see the real ending of the game, you have to know what to do in the occasional “statue rooms” you come across. If you perform the correct task, an image will appear in the middle of the screen, among them a scorpion, a Japanese “money cat” and Pac-Man. There are eight total. At the very end of the game, you find yourself in a room to enter the password made up of the symbols you found. If you found all eight and put them in the correct order, Indy ascends to the Hanging Gardens and you get the code for the Pro mode.

Babel no Tou is definitely a challenge and a half. Anyone wanting to play this one all the way through had better be prepared to die, a lot.

Next time, I’m going to talk about a Famicom game that wasn’t by Namco. Until then, check out this longplay of Babel no Tou.

That’s another fine mess you’ve gotten me into, Ki.

So just how did Princess Ki end up as a stone at the top of the Tower of Druaga? Find out in…

Kai no Bouken: The Quest of Ki – Namco – 1988

Years before the events of The Tower of Druaga, the Blue Crystal Rod was bestowed upon the land of Babylim (Babylon) by the god Anu, who placed it in the sky above the kingdom, where it brought about an era of peace. Babylim was then conquered by Emperor Balarant of Sumer, who forced the people of Babylim to construct a tower to reach the Blue Crystal Rod. However, angry about the blasphemy, Anu destroyed the tower and damaged the Rod, letting Druaga loose. Druaga rebuilt the tower and hid the Rod at the top. The goddess Ishtar then found a sorceress – Ki – and gave her a magic headband that enabled her to fly, and instructed her to ascend the tower and get the Blue Crystal Rod from Druaga.

Now that you know that…

I’ve decided that I like the idea of the Druaga games, not so much the games themselves, because the execution is flawed in a lot of places.

This is one such place.

The Tower of Druaga, for all its flaws, at least played fairly well. The Quest of Ki, on the other hand, looks like a traditional platformer, at first. But instead of using stairs or ladders to get to a higher platform, you have to press the jump button and watch as Ki practically flies into the stratosphere. You do have some control when determining where Ki lands, but if you whack her head on a ceiling, she’s knocked back down and you have no control until she hits the floor. Better hope there aren’t any enemies below her.

This is The Quest of Ki‘s biggest flaw, and at the same time, its most innovative gameplay mechanic. That, I think, must be some kind of paradox. It definitely puts a unique spin on traditional platforming, but it’s so frustrating that most players can only take so much of it before they give up and switch to a different game.

Ishtar and the dragon spirit Quox occasionally pop up between stages to give Ki hints, but unless you’re playing the English translation or can read Japanese, they’re worthless to you.

The ending sets up The Tower of Druaga nicely, at least. It explains exactly what happened to Ki and the Blue Crystal Rod, as well as what happened to Quox (who’s an enemy in Druaga), and you’re told that Ki’s lover Gil would ascend the tower and rescue her. Of course, they don’t mention how the two of them worked their way down the tower to escape, as seen in The Return of Ishtar.

Namco liked to do a whole “shared universe” thing with a lot of their earlier games, and I believe that there’s a chapter of the Druaga saga that takes place in the distant future. And even though the legend of Druaga, Gil, Ki and Ishtar had faded into myth by that point, the tower still stands, now home to the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. But what man would brave those crumbling walls and attempt to find the Hanging Gardens himself?

Only one man has the courage, skills and intelligence to attempt such a feat.

While you’re waiting to find out what happens next, check out this longplay of The Quest of Ki.

Unearthing the past.

I never thought I’d see this again.

My legendary lost fansite!

Not after I gave it to a fellow webmaster when I finally realized I had limits when it came to running fansites, and had to choose which ones I wanted to run the most. I gave it to a fellow Metal Slug fansite webmaster who proceeded to do absolutely jack shit with it, and once his site went the way of the dodo, so did mine. I didn’t have it backed up at all, so I resigned myself to the fact that it had been lost to the ages.

Not once did I think to check the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine. That was a major oversight on my part.

While prepping an upcoming West Mansion update, I got to thinking about the old site, and decided to check and see if there were any remnants of it kicking around. Sure enough, there was. A lot of it has been lost to time – mainly images – but the entire website had been preserved. That surprised me, considering that the site hadn’t been up that long before I turned it over to the other guy.

So I grabbed everything I could, did some quick and fast HTML editing, a couple of minor updates, and uploaded the site to a subdirectory of West Mansion.


So if you feel like exploring some ancient ruins, so to speak, click the link above and take a look around!