Game Review: Endzone: A World Apart – Survivor Edition

I haven’t played a good RTS for a long while. It is a genre of game that doesn’t get a lot of love these days, especially on consoles. I grew up playing RTS games. The likes of Dune II: Battle for Arrakis, Mega-Lo-Mania and the original Warcraft: Orcs & Humans, were games that swallowed my free time as a teenager. Endzone: A World Apart – Survivor Edition is an RTS game on consoles, developed by Gentlymad Studios and published by Assemble Entertainment.

“In 2021, a group of terrorists blew up nuclear power plants around the world and plunged the world into chaos. Only few were able to escape into underground facilities called “Endzones”. 150 years later, mankind returns to the surface – under your command! In an extremely hostile environment full of radioactivity, contaminated rain, extreme climate change, and people dreaming of a better life, you’ll have to prove your worth as a leader. Dedicate yourself to great ideas and guide your people into a period of prosperity and new inventions.”

ENDZONE A WORLD APART SCREEN 1

So then, as the blurb up there tells you. You are leading your people and fighting for survival following nuclear fallout. Though I mentioned a few RTS games in the intro up there, they were mainly ‘construct buildings and attack your opponents’ type titles. However, Endzone: A World Apart plays more like a SimCity  crossed with The Settlers RTS game over a build an army and destroy your enemies one. Though there are a few fights in this, they are not the focus. Here, your main goal is simply to survive and keep your little peeps happy. The main gameplay with Endzone: A World Apart centres around town management and maintenance.

Begin with a bare basic settlement and a few civilians and start out by gathering the essentials. Water is always a good thing to have and certainly a much-needed commodity. So, build a jetty on a body of water so your people can gather water. Then you’ll need a cistern to store your water for use. Still, before all of that, you’ll need builders and water carriers. See, that is just one resource, something as simple as water and you already have several elements that you need to manage to obtain and maintain it. Times that by the many other resources in the game, 90-odd buildings, the numerous jobs your little people will have to do and you have a pretty involving game here.

ENDZONE A WORLD APART SCREEN 2

Endzone: A World Apart is not a simple game at all. Let me put it this way, this comes with a tutorial that will take you a good few hours to reach the end of, in itself. Your town can grow from that bare basic settlement, to a bustling mini-metropolis over time. Time that you will be spending by managing and micro-managing every single aspect of your town as your lead your people to survive everything that a post-nuclear fallout brings.

Check the land for radiation and moisture to see if it will make good farmland to grow crops, decide which crops to grow, research new buildings and tech, rediscover electricity and more. Your people will soon start to have children that will need education, so you’ll need to keep on top of that and build a school. Your population will grow and so, you’ll need more buildings and better resources to keep everybody happy. Endzone: A World Apart just keeps throwing layer upon layer at you, unpacking more for you to do and manage as you play. As I say, this is more like SimCity or The Settlers than a Command & Conquer RTS, so you really do need your best management head on.

ENDZONE A WORLD APART SCREEN 3

Now, Endzone: A World Apart was released last year on PC. This updated console version, Endzone: A World Apart – Survivor Edition is the base game, all of the DLC and a few other tweaks to help with smoother play via a controller on consoles. Outside of the standard survival mode, you also get several scenarios to play around with, each with their own stories to follow. The game also comes with some impressive difficulty setting options where you can tailor pretty much every aspect of the game to find a setting that will suit your gameplay style.

ENDZONE A WORLD APART SCREEN 4

Coming with a hefty £45 price tag, but that price does include a piece of DLC and this is a huge game that will eat up many an hour. Still, there are actually two DLCs available and you really would think this version would have all of the DLC, especially at this price. Endzone: A World Apart – Survivor Edition is not a game that everybody will enjoy. It is slow, methodical and you do have to take a lot in. The tutorial is very in-depth but it’s also pretty imperative to play through… which can take a good while. This is a very deep and involving city-building RTS and these things just plod along at a slow and steady pace. So if you are looking for something with a bit more ‘action’ then you’re just not going to find it here. However, if you do have a soft spot for an in-depth RTS game (on console), then you’ll be hard pushed to find one much better than Endzone: A World Apart. A recommendation from me if you don’t mind that £45 dent to your wallet.

The Curious And Confusing History Of Commando, Bionic Commando And Super Joe

1985’s Commando from Capcom is one of the most massively influential shooters ever made. I am a tad hesitant to say that it created the run ‘n gun subgenre, I need to double-check that, but I will state that Commando certainly popularised it. Following the release of the game, the arcades became full of similar titles and even the home market saw plenty of run ‘n gun games too. The likes of Ikari Warriors, Green Beret, Contra, Who Dares Wins and even more modern games like Cuphead all owe a little something to Capcom and Commando for leading the charge.

COMMANDO SCREEN 1

A couple of years later in 1987, Capcom released Bionic Commando. At the time, I recall my older brother telling me that Bionic Commando was the sequel to Commando. But was it? The short answer is… ‘Yeeeeeaaaah, kind of, in a way of thinking, from a certain point of view, in a roundabout way, sort of… but not’. The long answer is this article.

There were certainly clear connections between the two games. Outside of the use of the word commando in both titles, they were both Capcom games. Both had a similar run ‘n gun gameplay mechanic. Perhaps Bionic Commando was a tad more platformy and swingy but it did still have a run ‘n gun element. Then, of course, there was the fact that both games were designed by the same man, Tokuro Fujiwara. I mean, one could see how it would be possible to think that the two games were sequel and prequel to each other.

COMMANDO BIONIC SCREEN

Officially though? This is where it gets a bit messy and confusing. See, for Bionic Commando’s western release, it was not explicitly said to be the sequel to Commando but it was heavily implied. The original arcade flyer to help promote Bionic Commando to arcade owners looked like this:

COMMANDO BIONIC POSTER

Quickly glossing over the “CAPCOM Swings Into Action With Its First Dedicated Video Game!!!” bit. What does that even mean? Capcom released a number of games pre-Bionic Commando and surely they were ‘dedicated’ video games too? I don’t recall 1942 being anything other than a video game, I definitely didn’t use it to clean my oven or anything. It was just a video game. But it is the bit at the bottom, there is a blurb that roughly describes the game. In that blub, it does say that: ” Super Joe Is Now BIONIC.”. See, this is where I need to address the whole Super Joe character bit. In Commando, you played as Super Joe. And yes, I have an arcade flyer to prove as much too.

COMMANDO POSTER

Super Joe is mentioned several times there. You definitely played as Super Joe in Commando then. So with Bionic Commando claiming that Super Joe is now bionic… for a game called Bionic Commando, from Capcom, with both games having similar titles and being designed by the same man. I think it would be more than safe to make the connection that the two games are sequel and prequel to each other. All good then eh? Well, not quite. See, I did say earlier that this really only applies to the western releases of both games. Back in Japan where Capcom are based… it is a different story.

In Japan, Commando’s character is not Super Joe, he was just an unnamed soldier. Not only that, Commando wasn’t even called Commando in Japan either. In Japan, the game was released as Senjō no Ōkami or Wolf of the Battlefield. In Japan, there was no character connection between Commando and Bionic Commando (called Top Secret in Japan), they were two completely separate games. When Tokuro Fujiwara created Bionic Commando, he actually wanted to make a sequel/follow up to his 1983 game called Roc’n Rope. However, Fujiwara made that game when he was at and for Konami, not Capcom. So he couldn’t officially make Bionic Commando a sequel to Roc’n Rope as Konami owned the rights. If you look at some gameplay of Roc’n Rope, you will see some similar shared concepts with Bionic Commando. Platforming action with the use of a harpoon-gun to reach different platforms. Throw in some run ‘n gun action and you’d have Bionic Commando.

ROC N ROPE

So yeah in Japan, the home of Capcom, Commando and Bionic Commando were completely unrelated. There was no Super Joe character to link the two games and Bionic Commando/Top Secret was even created as an unofficial follow up to Tokuro Fujiwara’s Roc’n Rope and not Commando/Wolf of the Battlefield. The Super Joe connection was purely created for the western audience. Which does kind of leave a question mark over if the two games are ‘officially’ connected when that was not the intention of the game’s creator… even though they are officially connected by Capcom themselves outside of Japan. It really is a rather strange history and one that only became more confusing with later games. Oh yeah, this is not done yet, there’s a lot more to look into.

See, Commando actually did get an official sequel. Not a ‘yeah I guess there is a slight connection here’, but an actual bona fide direct sequel that was not Bionic Commando. Released in 1990 from Capcom came Mercs or Wolf of the Battlefield II in Japan. Yes, an official, no bones about it, sequel. Featuring the same classic run ‘n gun gameplay that made Commando so popular. Only now, with a simultaneous 3-player option. Yup, you and two chums could team up and blow the crap out of stuff. Now, one could bring up the different titles here. It may have been an undisputed sequel called Wolf of the Battlefield II in Japan, but not here in the west. Why was it not just called Commando 2 if it was a direct sequel to Commando? I guess that really comes down to the story of the game, I mean, the characters are mercenaries and no longer part of the military. So calling it Commando 2 wouldn’t quite fit, would it? Wolf of the Battlefield II worked as it doesn’t necessarily make a connection to the military but still very much does work as a sequel to the original game and its title.

MERCS

So yeah, the title of Mercs here in the west just sounded better as the characters were not part of the military and worked as mercenaries. Still, you do have to question how a game with a different title can be considered a sequel if there is no real connection other than a similar gameplay style. Well, there was another connection. The three playable characters in Mercs were called Joseph Gibson, Howard Powell and Thomas Clarke. Of those three, Joseph Gibson, who was always depicted in blue, was the main character. It doesn’t matter if you take the official promotional material for the arcade version or the various home ports. Joseph Gibson, dressed in blue, was always front and centre.

combine_images

Do you know who else was dressed in blue? Super Joe in Commando. Hey, wait a minute… Joseph Gibson and Super Joe? Yup, they are in fact one and the same character, officially canon according to Capcom too. So yes, Mercs (despite the lack of a sequel title) is the real sequel to Commando and not Bionic Commando, which was actually an unofficial follow up to Roc’n Rope due to legal reasons… even though the western release of Bionic Commando was officially linked to Commando by Capcom themselves. Confused yet?

Well, there is more. There was another game. Wolf of the Battlefield: Commando 3 was released in 2008 on the PS3 and Xbox 360. Finally, the two official titles merge. We now have the original Japanese name and the western one together to make the third and (so far) final game in the series. This one played more like Mercs in that it was a 3-player, mass explosion run ‘n gun game… but now in 3D! Again, the main character was depicted as being in blue with promotional material having him front and centre. So… Super Joe/Joseph Gibson again then? Well no. The three characters had codenames and this fella was called Wolf… as in the title of the game. But he must be Joe just using a codename then. No. The character select screen displays his real name as Roy McMurray. This game really has nothing to do with Commando other than the name and run ‘n gun gameplay. There was no connecting plot or characters to the previous two games.

COMMANDO 3

So, what happened to the star of the series Joseph ‘Super Joe’ Gibson then? Well, this is where we need to go back to Bionic Commando. Now, the original arcade game never had a sequel, not a connecting one anyway. There was Bionic Commando: Elite Forces on the GameBoy in 2000. This is said to be a ‘proper’ sequel to the original, yet it has nothing to do with the original at all. Still, it’s more of a sequel to the NES port of the original game, which itself was very different from the arcade version. Anyway, Bionic Commando: Elite Forces has nothing to do with the Bionic Commando featuring Super Joe. There is an all-new plot with new characters, none of them are Joseph ‘Super Joe’ Gibson. Really, this could be seen as a stand-alone game. So we aren’t going to find any answers as to what happened to Super Joe here. For that, we would have to wait a good few years. 2008 saw the release of Bionic Commando Rearmed.

BIONIC COMMANDO REARMED

Okay, so let’s get even more confused now. Bionic Commando Rearmed was a, built from the ground up, complete remake of the NES version of the arcade original. The NES version was a very different game with a different plot to the arcade version. Still, Super Joe was in it… and he is captured. That is what happens with this remake too, Super Joe is sent in on a mission and is captured. So you, playing as Nathan Spencer, go in and try to rescue Super Joe and help him finish his mission. This means that Super Joe has now jumped ship from the Commando franchise (he wasn’t in the 3rd game) and is now officially part of the Bionic Commando franchise… a franchise that (remember) was not originally part of the Commando one. It was an unofficial follow up to Tokuro Fujiwara’s Roc’n Rope.

Anyway, Bionic Commando Rearmed actually served as, not only a remake, but also a prelude to 2009’s Bionic Commando. This game was a kind of a reboot of the original arcade game but still a sequel (of sorts) to Bionic Commando Rearmed… which was a remake of the NES port of the arcade original… which itself was a different take on the arcade version. This new Bionic Commando takes place 10 years after the first game… that’s the NES version and not the arcade original. You play as Nathan Spencer from Bionic Commando Rearmed and this time, Joseph ‘Super Joe’ Gibson is the bad guy. Yup, you have to track down and deal with the hero of the original game that you are currently playing the reboot of. The character who jumped from the Commando franchise to the Bionic Commando one. Could this shit get any more convoluted? Well yes, yes it can.

BIONIC COMMANDO 2009

Finally, in 2011, we got Bionic Commando Rearmed 2. So, while this was released after the 2009 Bionic Commando game, it is actually set before it… but still after the first Bionic Commando Rearmed. I’m seriously getting a headache now. Nathan Spencer is the main character, back from the previous games. Joseph ‘Super Joe’ Gibson serves as Nathan Spencer’s commanding officer in this one… who becomes the bad guy in 2009’s Bionic Commando which was released before this one.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is what happened to Super Joe. He started out as the hero of Commando (outside of Japan) before being placed in the world of the arcade version of Bionic Commando by Capcom but not the games creator, Tokuro Fujiwara. Joseph ‘Super Joe’ Gibson then popped up as the main character in the official Commando sequel, Mercs… before disappearing from the next game in the franchise with Wolf of the Battlefield: Commando 3. That was because Super Joe had officially been placed in the Bionic Commando franchise, thanks to Bionic Commando Rearmed, which was a remake of the NES port of the arcade original that featured Super Joe as the hero… even though he wasn’t in the Japanese arcade original. Anyway, in the NES port and the 2008 remake, Super Joe became a secondary character as Nathan Spencer took the lead (though he was called Ladd in the NES version). Only for Joseph ‘Super Joe’ Gibson to become the bad guy in the 2009 Bionic Commando reboot… which is a sequel of sorts to the Bionic Commando Rearmed remake. Which then got its own sequel Bionic Commando Rearmed 2 in 2011… which saw Super Joe return as Nathan Spencer’s commanding officer.

SUPER JOE

Now that is out of the way, I suppose I could tackle the whole Double Dragon/Nekketsu Kōha Kunio-kun/Renegade multiple franchise mess… after several months to recover from this whole Commando/Bionic Commando/Super Joe chaos.

The Many Sites, Sounds And Smells Of The Arcade

There’s a new game coming soon, based around the idea of running your very own arcade. Arcade Paradise, from Nosebleed Interactive and Wired Productions, is a game that I’ve had my eye on for over a year now. Fingers crossed, I’ll be reviewing it soon-ish too (#ShamelessFreePlug).

Anyway, my excitement for Arcade Paradise got me reminiscing over the good ‘ole days when the arcade was king. To the point where I decided to write an article to remember and celebrate those good ‘ole days of my growing up in and around the arcades of the 80s and 90s. This right here is that article.

Being born in the mid-seventies and growing up, as I did, in the 80s, allowed me to be in the midst of the arcade gaming boom. I began my gaming journey in the late 70s when we, as a family, got an Atari 2600. I may not have fully understood what gaming was back then as a young 4-year-old but I knew that I enjoyed it. Part of the mass appeal of the Atari 2600 back then was the fact it had several really good arcade ports. The likes of Space Invaders may not have been arcade perfect on the 2600, but the simple fact that we could play arcade games at home was awesome.

SPACE INVADERS 2600

See, I grew up in Birmingham, England, which is part of the Midlands. And it’s called the Midlands because it is slap bang in the middle of England. Being in the middle of the country pretty much made it as far removed from the seaside as you could get. This was an issue because, well, the seaside was where most arcades tended to be back then. Being a hundred or so miles away from an arcade meant I had to rely on the 2600 ports for me to get my arcade gaming fix. In fact, I played pretty much all of those classic arcade games on the wood-finished beast that was the Atari 2600. The likes of Frogger, Pac-Man, Asteroids, et al were all first played on our family 2600 before I ever played them in their natural habitat.

There was the rare occasion I would get to venture into an actual arcade though. We had family on the coast in Ramsgate, Kent. Now and again, we’d have a summer family holiday in Ramsgate and when I got bored of building sandcastles or crabbing, I’d venture into an arcade with my older brothers. I remember being quite envious that the arcade games always looked and sounded better than they did on our 2600. I was too young to understand hardware limitations and such back then. I just wanted to know why Galaxian looked so much better in the arcade than when I played it at home.

GALXIAN

Those early 80s of the arcade were where my love for gaming began to grow. As I got older, gaming quickly became my main hobby. Building sandcastles or going crabbing became secondary to visiting an arcade with each successive family holiday and with each year I aged. There was something special about the sounds of the arcade. You’d be walking along the promenade with some seaside fish & chips in your hands, then the all too familiar sounds of Pac-Man’s ‘wacka-wacka-wacka’ would call you into the nearest arcade, like a siren enticing a sailor… only not to your death but to your idea of heaven, an Arcade Paradise if you will (#StillAShamelessFreePlug).

I have a very vivid memory of walking around an arcade with my Nan while on a family holiday. As we walked among the many cabinets, Gorf called out ‘insert coin’, though the Votrax speech chip made it sound more like it said ‘insert cloin’. Anyway, when my Nan heard that, she just stopped in her tracks, looked at the cabinet and said: “Is that thing talking to me?”. She kind of sounded both surprised, impressed and insulted that a machine had dared speak to her. Those sounds of the arcade are little nuggets that have been inserted into my brain for eternity. I hear Pole Position say ‘Prepare to qualify’ now and the hippocampus and neocortex in my brain work together to pull a memory from 40 years ago of my older brother’s obsession with trying to get his name at the top of the high score table… then 6-year-old me would have a go, crash into a billboard and I’d think it was the coolest thing I’d ever seen.

POLE POSITION

1983s Dragon’s Lair was another game whose sights and sounds spark off memories too. It was the first time I ever heard my older brother swear. He would’ve only been about 12 himself at the time. But when we walked into an arcade and saw Dragon’s Lair… wait, technically we heard it first. There were the usual blips and bloops of the other arcade machines of the day. The occasional very rough speech sample that, in your memories, sounded crystal clear but when you hear them now, you realise how low-quality they were. Anyway, in among all of those very early 80s arcade noises was the always very loud, LaserDisc powered, perfect stereo quality speech of Dragon’s Lair. The booming voice of the announcer drew you to the cabinet, even when it was the other side of the arcade. Me and my brother walked towards the cabinet and the crowd that had amassed to gaze at the game’s beauty. When we saw those Don Bluth animations, that was when I heard my brother say “fucking hell” for the first time.

DRAGON'S LAIR

We also spent a lot of time in Barmouth, Wales for family holidays. That was amazing as there used to be three arcades all within walking distance right there on the seafront. Those three arcades were where my brothers and I would spend most of our holiday money. We’d pretty much live in them for the week we were there. In terms of arcade memories, Barmouth is where most of them stem from and where I played a lot of games for the first time. Paperboy with its handlebar controls and the music that I can still sing (or ‘do-do-do’ to anyway) beat for beat today. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom was one of the games I would play often. I was a huge Indy fan back then, to the point that when I grew up, I wanted to be Indiana Jones. To be honest, I only ever really wanted to play the minecart chase bit of the game. I became a bit obsessed with it and I would purposely die when nearing the end of the level so I could stay on the minecart bit as long as I could.

TEMPLE OF DOOM

My brother would play Karate Champ and he was really bloody good at it too. I could never get to grips with the whole double joystick controls thing as a kid and would just jump around or pull off moves that were nowhere near a connecting hit, until I got knocked out or time ran out… and I lost. Then there was Ghosts ‘n Goblins. I didn’t understand at the time just how fucking hard that game was. The idea of a game being unbelievably difficult ever entered my mind back then, I thought I was just missing something and that was why I kept dying. On the first stage, very near the start, there’s a bit where you can go up a ladder and there is a plant that shoots at you. To the left was (what I thought was) a shield pick-up. I got it into my head that you had to grab the shield to help you against the projectiles that the plant shot at you. So I’d spend most of my time trying to perfectly time the climb up the ladder and run to the left to grab the ‘shield’. Of course, it was just a bonus pick-up for extra points and all you had to do was shoot the plant. But my younger brain refused to accept that and I kept dying trying to nab that ‘shield’. I never did get past that part of the game, even after pouring stupid amounts of 10ps into it.

OutRun, I can’t explore my growing up in arcades without mentioning OutRun. I was obsessed with this game as a kid. For me, this Sega classic is still one of the greatest games ever made. It is arcade racing perfected and rarely ever beaten. I loved Ferraris as a kid (who didn’t) and I used to have a big Testarossa poster on my wall, one daydreaming that I’d own one when I was older. Being in the arcades circa 1987 was the only way I could experience driving around in a Ferrari Testarossa back then. Everything about that game just clicked. The graphics, the sense of speed, the sunkissed scenery and of course, that immortal music that you can hear in your head no matter where you are. Being on a summer holiday made playing OutRun just that little bit more special too. There is something that can be said for playing a nice sunny game on a hot summer day that adds to the feeling of the game. And if you were lucky enough to find one of the deluxe sit-down cabinets with the hydraulics and all that. Man, that was the only way to play OutRun properly.

OUTRUN

Double Dragon, I really must give this game a name-check here as it was the first arcade game I ever finished. It was hard too as I didn’t know of the old elbow spamming trick back then. I honestly couldn’t tell you how many 10ps I had to put into this one before I got to the end. There was actually a little bug/trick during the big fight before the credits. You could get hit/thrown up to the area where the big boss would stay while his henchmen would beat the crap out of you. But while you were up there, the enemies couldn’t hit you and the big boss was ‘technically’ out of the game, so wasn’t programmed to attack from there, you could just beat the crap out of him and he’d do nothing. Still, getting to that point was bloody hard. I’ve always had a soft spot for Double Dragon as it was the first arcade game I got to the end of.

DOUBLE DRAGON

There was one game that brought me and my two brothers closer together, whilst making us bicker and argue at the same time, Gauntlet. I still remember the first time I ever saw that 4-player monster of an arcade cabinet back in Barmouth as a kid. The stunning artwork on the sides with the four characters battling monsters. The four joysticks in front of the larger than normal screen was unreal. My oldest brother Rob, he’d always play as Merlin the wizard. Graham, the middle brother, favoured Thor the warrior and I’d play as Questor the elf. Nobody ever wanted to be Thyra the valkyrie. Even today, if I ever play the original Gauntlet, I just instinctively play as Questor. The fact we had to work as a team in the game made us appreciate each other as we played… the fact you could shoot the food caused many an argument, especially when the game was telling us that “Wizard needs food… badly”. This was unlike anything we had played before and a summer holiday in Barmouth just was not complete without us spending a large chunk of our holiday pocket money on Gauntlet.

GAUNTLET

Honestly, I could sit here and type thousands upon thousands of words about arcades in the 80s and yes, I know I’ve not named a great many fantastic games. But I need to move on as I still have the 90s to cover yet. But before I do, I really must mention Dayvilles. This place was an ice cream parlour famed for its amazing selection of ice creams, thirty-two flavours to be precise. Anyway, a Dayvilles opened up in my home city of Birmingham in the 80s and as great as the ice cream was, it was what was under Dayvilles that impressed even more… an arcade. My oldest brother discovered it one day as it wasn’t really advertised and if you were just walking past, you’d never know that underneath all of those thirty-two flavours of that ice cream was a basement arcade. This meant that I didn’t have to wait until the annual family summer holiday to get my arcade fix as this one was a 40-minute bus ride away. Whenever my bother would go into town, which was every weekend, he’d take me along with him and every weekend we’d go into Dayvilles, down the stairs and spend hours playing arcade games.

Being in the basement, the Dayvilles arcade was a very dark and grim place. There wasn’t a great deal of room down there either and the selection of games was a bit slim. I’d say they’d have maybe ten or so cabinets. But to us, it felt so much bigger. It lacked the sunny seaside appeal of going to a bigger arcade during a summer holiday but still, this little underground arcade in the middle of the concrete jungle that was Birmingham City centre was better than a swift kick in the nards. It was where I first played R-Type and my love for the series was born. By the time the latter part of the 80s rolled around, the arcade scene really began to grow too. More and more city arcades began to pop up and there was a handful in Birmingham where I grew up, arguably ‘better’ ones too. Still, there was something special about that Dayvilles arcade, the fact it was hidden away underground made you feel like you had discovered a secret only a few knew of.

R-TYPE

Anyway, the 90s. By now, gaming had exploded and the home market was quickly catching up with what the arcades could do. Home consoles such as the SNES and Megadrive were capable of giving us gamers almost arcade-perfect ports and sometimes with a few extra bells and whistles. I mean, the Megadrive port of Golden Axe was pretty damn great eh? Arcades had also grown and more began to appear too. The 90s was the point where gaming really began to be seen as less of a ‘dirty’ pastime. Oh don’t get me wrong, there was still a bit of a stigma attached to the whole gaming thing, but it was lesser than it used to be in the 80s. We used to take the family dog for a good run at a place called the Lickey Hills. It is this huge park in the middle of the countryside, a few miles away from the city centre of Birmingham. If you grew up in Birmingham in the 70s, 80s and 90s, then you knew of the Lickey Hills. We spent hours there as kids in the 80s and yet, it wasn’t until the very late 80s or early 90s when I learned that it had its very own arcade. This wasn’t some dark and dismal basement-dwelling either. The Lickey Hills arcade was huge, it was like the kind of arcade you’d find at the seaside… only not at the seaside. I’ve only just learned, while researching for this very article, that not only is the arcade still there (changed a lot over the years) but it has been there for a hundred years and has been owned by the same family for all that time too.

All those times that me and my brother would go into the city centre and spend hours underground cramped in at Dayvilles, there was this much bigger, more open arcade with many more games and only a few miles from where we lived at the time and where we often took the dog for a walk. I have no idea how we missed it for so many years. But I guess that was just how it was back then, arcades were not advertised and you only really know of them via word of mouth. Then there was the fact that arcades were most definitely more of a summer holiday thing. You’d expect to find an arcade when on holiday and on the coastline, but not so much a few miles from a major city near a big park in the countryside.

FLETCHERS

Fletcher’s Arcade (as it was called back then) was where I spent a lot of my teenage years. I turned 14 in 1990 and was well into my gaming by then and on my way to becoming an adult. This was where I first saw and played Street Fighter II. I remember it well because it wasn’t a ‘normal’ arcade cabinet, as is the standard kind of stand up arcade cabinet you’d usually see. It had a much bigger screen than the normal cabinet. Then it had an angled bench where you didn’t quite sit down, it was more a case of that you leaned back whilst standing up, resting your arse on the angled bench. It was glorious.

Street Fighter II is a perfect place to bring up the beginning of the death of the arcades, because it was when the home ports came out that we gamers realised that the arcades were becoming less and less of an attraction in the early 90s. I mean, the SNES port of Street Fighter II was so damn good that you really didn’t need to go to the arcade to play Street Fighter II anymore. This was the era when arcades had to do something bold that was hard or impossible to replicate at home.

Street Fighter II

8-player Daytona USA, as an example. I mean a home port of Daytona USA wouldn’t exist for a few years anyway and even then, it wouldn’t be 8-player. So yeah, the early and mid-90s was when the arcade tried to lure us console gamers back into the arcade with technology that you just couldn’t get at home. Sure the Terminator 2: Judgment Day home port was decent enough…. but you couldn’t match the awesome original arcade version with the 2-player, twin uzis. In a way, the early 90s of the arcade were going back a decade to the early 80s, by trying to entice people in with interesting cabinets and peripherals. Terminator 2: Judgment Day was basically Operation Wolf and while we may have had light guns at home, they didn’t have the force feedback as they did in the arcade. The sit-down racing cabinets of the 80s were now the multiplayer sit-down cabinets of the 90s. But it wasn’t just about rehashing old tech as new. Old game ideas were also being updated in an attempt to lure folk back into the arcades.

TIME TRAVELER

Sega’s Time Traveler was really nothing more than a more modern take on Dragon’s Lair… only now with holograms. It was the same (but improved) laserdisc technology, with the same QTE styled gameplay. But instead of hand-drawn animations, it was now ‘live action’ actors displayed using 3D holograms. I mean, both Dragon’s Lair and Time Traveler were designed by the same man, Rick Dyer. It was an interesting age of the arcade, seeing a lot of the older 80s ideas being brought back for a new audience. Sometimes, you could find a real beaut of an arcade cabinet too. Like the full scale Ridge Racer in Blackpool (I got to play this in its heyday). This truly was a thing to marvel at. You sat in an actual Mazda MX-5 (or Eunos Roadster if you’re from Japan) and the controls of the car worked to play the game on three massive screens. You used the actual car radio to select music, the gear-stick changed the gears and the air con threw air in your face as you raced. The full scale Ridge Racer was amazing and was a perfect example of what arcades were doing to try to keep people coming in.

FULL SCALE RIDGE RACER

Anyway, the great thing about Fletcher’s Arcade was that it sat between two pubs. As I got older, the family summer holiday gave way to hanging out with my friends, going to the pub for a few beers, popping in the arcade, going back to the pub for some more beers and rounding the day off with some more games in the arcade. But even so, around the mid-90s, it was fast becoming clear that the arcade was slowly dying out because the home market was not just catching up with the arcades but quite often exceeding it. Fletcher’s Arcade was great, it was big, it had everything covered. Older retro games and the latest cutting edge games too. I could pop in and play some Ghosts ‘n Goblins and still not finish the first level. To then go and play some Virtua Cop 2 just by walking a few feet. It really was the best of both worlds in terms of an arcade. But you know what it didn’t have? The likes of Resident Evil, WipEout and so on.

TEKEN

The ‘PlayStation era’, the 32-bit generation of home consoles, that was the nail in the coffin of the arcade. I mean, I could play Tekken at home now and with a load of extra stuff the arcade version just didn’t have. But I couldn’t play Final Fantasy VII or Grand Theft Auto in the arcade, could I? By the time 1995 rolled around, the home market had all but won. Sega had released its Saturn console and that was more than capable of playing all those great arcade hits. Sega Rally, Virtua Cop, Dead or Alive, RayStorm and so on. Tip-top arcade games that we could now play at home, why would you want to go to the arcade anymore? When the PlayStation became so dominant and popular, the arcade really didn’t stand a chance.

My visits to the arcade became less and less frequent as it was easier to stay at home and play arcade quality games (and more) instead. Of course, the arcade pretty much all but died out over the next few years in the latter part of the 90s. You could find specialist arcades though, the likes of Sega and Namco created their very own arcade entertainment venues to try and keep the arcade alive… but they just weren’t true arcades. They weren’t those dingy basement dungeons that felt secretive and as if you were an exclusive member, they weren’t the seaside escapes that you used to get away when you were bored of making sandcastles and crabbing. They were loud and brash ‘please look at me, I’m still an arcade… honest’ things that certainly had the games to keep you entertained, but they lacked the appeal of the 80s and 90s heydays.

SEGA WORLD

It’s kind of sad to walk along the beachfront here in the UK and see what passes as an ‘arcade’ these days. We took a little family holiday last summer just for a week to Torquay. Myself, my lass and our two young kids. Our daughter is now the age I was when I first got into gaming and arcades. I thought it would be great to take her to a classic arcade and show her the games I grew up playing from 40 years ago, the games I played as a teenager and the ones I played as a young adult in the mid-90s. Could I find one though? Nope. I found loads of ‘arcades’ with claw machines and all that crap. Those semi-fixed machines that spit out tickets, which you can then swap for a shit cuddly toy that you could just buy for £5 anyway. Man, it was depressing to think that crap is what is considered an ‘arcade’ these days.

Still, it’s not all depression though as there are some great retro arcades out there, if you know where to look. Most of them with the business model that you pay a fixed amount for a set time, and you are unleashed on many classic arcade cabinets (set to free play) from the good ‘ole days. They may not be the seaside attractions they used to be, but they do still exist.

ARCADE PARADISE

You see ladies and gentlemen, this is why I’m so looking forward to Arcade Paradise (#YupStillMostDefinitelyAShamelessFreePlug). It’s a chance for me to relive the glory days of the arcade, to revisit my youth and all, rather ironically, by not having to leave the house. Using the very method that killed the arcade in the first place to enjoy the arcade once more that I sorely miss. But seriously though gentle reader, if you are a fan of those classic arcade days, get Arcade Paradise on your radar, ‘cos it really does look awesome.

And if you enjoyed this little trip down gaming memory lane, grab yourself a copy of my book 66 Of The Most Important Video Games Ever! (According To Me) from Amazon. Look, if I’m going to plug Arcade Paradise for free and just because I think it looks amazing, I’m gonna plug my own work too.

Anxiety, Depression, Indie Gaming, Writing And Me

Pre-warning. This is a long and very personal article.

I often like to share personal memories with this blog. I enjoy looking back on my past and writing about all I have experienced in the world of gaming and so on. Of all the articles I have written over the years, this one has been the most difficult. From me starting this article to me pressing the publish button, it has been six months. Six months of writing, reading and editing. Deleting sentences, paragraphs and even the whole article… multiple times. To then re-write, re-read and re-edit… multiple times.

I don’t know if the constant editing and deletion of this article is a form of embarrassment to openly admit and detail that I have suffered from anxiety and depression, or if it is just a case of me thinking that people wouldn’t be interested to read about me suffering from anxiety and depression. Still, even if only one person reads this, understands and maybe even learns something from it. Then just maybe, it actually is worth it. Plus, this is a great cathartic release for me too.

DERPESSION WRITING

I don’t even know exactly where to start with this one. Do I go back to the point in my life when depression first took hold of me? I couldn’t do that even if I wanted to because I honestly don’t know. Depression takes over for a multitude of reasons, the end of a relationship, death of a loved one, loss of a job and more. Sometimes depression just happens and there is no real trigger moment or reason. I definitely fall into the latter there. I don’t know how or why my depression first began, I don’t know why it still comes back now and again either. I just know that it is there, that it likes to rear its ugly head and drags me down every now and then.

I can tell you when I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety and when I first realised that something was wrong though. It was late February of 2020 and I was feeling unbelievably low. I mean seriously down to the point of crying… which I would often do when nobody else was around. One of the big triggers was the birth of my son, which was mid-December 2019. What should’ve been an amazing and joyous occasion, I felt nothing. I was there for the birth, I cut the umbilical cord, I held my son for the first time just minutes after he was born and I felt nothing. It was Christmas and I was at home with my partner, our daughter, my mom stayed with us for a couple of days and of course, our newborn son. This should’ve been a wonderful family memory to cherish forever and the best Christmas present ever, I felt nothing.

Still, I’m a man so I sucked it all up and just put on a brave face. That’s what we men do, right? I was on my paternity leave from work, I got through Christmas and New Year, I pretended I was happy when around family and friends and went back to work a couple of weeks later. My (as of then) undiagnosed depression was insane. I would cry on my way to work, cry on my way back from work, cry when everyone was asleep in the house. Our dog would come over and put his head on my lap to offer some comfort. The only happiness I felt was when I held my Xbox controller in my hand or when I was doing some writing. My escapism, my relief from how down I was feeling at the time.

XBOX CONTROLLER

I need to cover an issue with work for background. I had pre-arranged and agreed set hours due to childcare to look after our daughter as both I and my girlfriend worked, this was before my son was born too. I had those hours for over a year and a half and I had been working at this place for almost three years at the time. So, I had those agreed and set hours longer than I hadn’t. Anyway, when I came back from my paternity leave after our son was born, my boss changed all my hours and put me on shifts that I could not do. My hours were fine before my son was born and when we had one child but now we had two, suddenly there was an issue. Truth be told, I suspected my boss wanted to force me out of my job because he had hired a friend of his to help out over Christmas and while I was on paternity leave. I believe he then wanted that friend to stay on and me to go. Obviously, I could not prove this but the changing of my hours was a step to get me to leave.

So, I was under a lot of stress due to really struggling with these new hours and the extra childcare, new baby and all that. I spoke to my girlfriend, who is an HR manager for an international company but on her maternity leave at the time. She really, really knows her employment law. She said they can not just change my hours like that, without discussing with me first, especially as I had a long-standing agreement in place. So following advice, I put in an informal complaint against my manager. I had to have an informal meeting with my manager (who didn’t know my lass was an HR manager and didn’t know I was getting professional advice), he stuck by his guns, told me I was wrong and I had to do the hours he gave me. Long story short and I had to escalate the informal complaint to a formal one via head office. So yeah, I had a lot of shit going on at work, a new baby and (undiagnosed) depression in early 2020.

I just pushed on with my life, I really didn’t want to, I just did. I’d go to work all day, come home to a quiet house (as everyone was asleep), cry to myself, dog’s head on my lap and then play some games or get my laptop out and write. Minecraft was my go-to game, my safety net. Yeah I know, I’m an almost 46-year-old man playing, what many consider, a ‘kid’s game’. Still, I found Minecraft relaxing. The gentle piano music that plays in the background, just chilling out and building myself a house, etc. It took me back to being a kid playing with LEGO. I wasn’t making crappy and annoying YouTube Minecraft videos, I used the game as a means of escape, a way to calm myself down when my stress and anxiety of work took over.

MINECRAFT

I honestly didn’t know what was wrong with me at the time. We had a new baby boy, the first boy born on our side of the family too as we had previously had a girl and my two brothers had both had girls too. So having a baby boy was a massive family joy, just not for me. Anyway, I was at work one day in late February 2020, had been there for 10 hours or so and I knew something was wrong. I wasn’t sure what it was, the whole covid thing was everywhere by then and you couldn’t avoid the news even if you wanted to. So I blamed the covid outbreak and the news for reporting on all the doom and gloom for making me feel down, even though I knew I’d been feeling like shit for a long time before the covid news even broke, I just used it as an excuse.

So anyway, I was at work feeling really shitty and I called my girlfriend at home, she was on her maternity leave and very tired, looking after the new baby and an energetic 2-year-old. I hated myself for having to do that as I didn’t like to bother her and all that, which really didn’t help with my depression. I asked for some HR advice, I told her something was not right, that I felt down and really couldn’t face work. She told me to come home, that I have every right to tell my boss that I’m not well mentally and I can leave work as long as I explain. To be honest, it was nearing the end of my shift anyway, I had 3 hours or so left, so I stuck it out. I finished my shift and went home as I really don’t like pulling sickies, even when actually sick, I just don’t like letting people down. Plus, what with all this shit hanging over my head regarding my hours at work, I really didn’t want to upset the applecart too much, I needed to show that I was still a willing worker. I finished work, went home, everyone was asleep, I cried, I played some Minecraft.

The next day, following advice from my girlfriend, I called work and told them that I wouldn’t be in, I hated myself for doing that too as there was nothing psychically wrong with me. I wasn’t throwing up, I felt perfectly well in that regard. But there was definitely something wrong upstairs. I managed to get a doctor’s appointment that morning. Again, this was while covid was around and in the news but before it all kicked off proper and the world turned to shit. So I could actually get a face to face doctor appointment then. Still, I really don’t like bothering doctors.

I remember sitting in the doctor’s office in a blue plastic chair. My doctor asked me what was wrong, I didn’t know how to explain it because I didn’t really understand it myself. I couldn’t just say that I felt a bit down because it made me feel like a fraud. There were people out there with ‘real’ illnesses and, at the time, I believed that being a bit down wasn’t a ‘real’ illness. So, I told my doctor about an incident at work the previous week instead. One second I was fine, the next I had a pounding headache, my heart was racing, I was sweating. I thought that maybe it was a mild heart attack or something. My doctor gave me the once over, checking my heartbeat, blood pressure and all that and found nothing that would suggest a heart attack. My blood pressure was a little high but not worryingly so. She began asking some questions about my general lifestyle, do I smoke? No. Do I drink? Yes, perhaps more than I should and so on.

DERPESSION MAN

I don’t know why, but it all just came out as if I wasn’t even controlling what I said. I told her about the birth of my son a few months earlier and how I felt nothing. I told her about my crying on the way to work, coming home from work, when I was alone and more. I even began crying right there in the doctor’s office. After offering me a tissue, she joined the dots. My mood, my crying, the attack at work the week before. A panic/anxiety attack is what my doctor said it most probably was. It was as if a missing piece of a jigsaw had just been slotted into place. Within seconds, my doctor was on the phone to a local mental health clinic and had me booked in for an appointment the following week. Covid restrictions had not formally been put in place yet but caution was being applied and doctors were trying to keep numbers down to a minimum if not an emergency. I was not suicidal or anything, I was not considered an emergency so they felt I could wait until the following week to be assessed properly.

My doctor couldn’t sign me off work yet as I had not been officially diagnosed with anything but I could self-certify, so I did. I signed myself off work for a week, which would cover until I got assessed by a mental health worker at my appointment. The days rolled by, I still felt shit… maybe just slightly better as I didn’t have to face work for a few days. I would cheer myself up by escaping into gaming and writing. It was the 6th of March 2020, a Friday, the day of my appointment at the mental health clinic and the covid situation was clearly worsening.  Still, no official restrictions had been put in place yet but you could ‘feel’ that something was different, there were fewer people on the streets and anyone you did see would do their best to avoid getting close to you, in case they caught this mysterious killer virus.

I got assessed by a mental health worker, I was asked all sorts of questions. Questions that were different to what my GP asked, far more personal and less general questions. I’m not going to go into great detail here (as not to bore you too much). One question was, was there any history of mental health problems in my family? I had to think for a while but I remembered the time my mom attempted suicide. I was a young teenager at the time and, being completely honest, I was a bit of a cunt. I put my mom through hell doing things that I am deeply ashamed of now. My mom was a single parent and struggled to raise three kids at a time when being a single parent was a serious taboo. The help for single parents was not there like it is today and things were very tough, with my mom often holding down multiple part-time jobs to put food on the table. As an ignorant and selfish prick of a teenager, I never appreciated all of what my mom did at the time. I would act out and be very disobedient, skip school a lot, and worse.

This had a massive negative impact on my mom, who was already struggling. One day, she had enough. She grabbed a big bottle of paracetamol (from the days when you could buy big bottles of paracetamol) and a bottle of Martini and downed the lot. My older brother found her, she was taken to hospital, had her stomach pumped and she survived. Mom was in the hospital for several days, I refused to go and see her. At the time, I felt that if she wanted to kill herself due to how I was, then so be it. As I said, I was a bit of a cunt back then (possibly even depressed?). Anyway, when I told the mental health worker this story, their attitude changed. The questions got even more personal and I was eventually diagnosed with SAD (stress, anxiety and depression). My own acronym for this article and not to be confused with the actual SAD (seasonal affective disorder). The mental health worker got on the phone to my GP there and then and told them to sign me off work for the next two weeks, linking what was going on at work with the dispute over my hours and everything else to my state of mind and general mood.

DOCTOR ASSESS

So that was it, I was officially diagnosed as depressed. There was talk of putting me on mediation but nothing was set in stone as they just wanted to see how the next two weeks went first. I was given loads of pamphlets, phone numbers, like the Samaritans and such, then sent on my way. If I felt seriously low, then I was to call my GP/the mental health clinic immediately. I went home and did nothing much. I tried to connect with my then three-month-old baby boy but I still felt nothing… and that made me feel worse about myself. My two weeks were almost up and I had an appointment booked to be re-assessed at the mental health clinic on the 24th of March and return to work on the 25th if I was deemed okay. But something happened that changed all of that. On the 23rd of March, the UK went into national lockdown due to covid.

I was actually dreading going back to work and being forced to do the hours I could not do. I had all of this formal complaint stuff hanging over my head, the stress and depression were slowly killing me. I was officially diagnosed with SAD and everything was seemingly falling down on top of me. But then, I suddenly didn’t have to go to work. For how long, I didn’t know at the time. Was the lockdown going to last a few days, weeks or more? Boris Johnson said we would beat the virus in twelve weeks. It’s funny looking back as to just how clueless he really was and still is. Anyway, there was this strange mix of emotions going on in my head. Okay, so I didn’t have to go to work for a while but I was still massively depressed. There was a killer virus going around and we were in a full lockdown. We couldn’t leave the house unless absolutely necessary. The streets were deserted and it looked like something from a post-apocalyptic film. That first lockdown was genuinely scary, the virus was still being studied at the time. The news was saying it could be worse than the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918 with 50,000,000 dead. There was a lot of uncertainty and fear. I remember one day when my girlfriend hugged me tight and said that she was scared and that scared me. What if we did die, what about the kids? In between feeling like utter shit, I played some games and did more writing, It helped. My mental health specialist even said I should concentrate on something that would occupy my mind, so I did and it really did help too.

DERPESSION WRITING 2

You couldn’t move for covid news, it was everywhere and it was always doom and gloom. That first lockdown kept getting extended and it ended up lasting several months before being relaxed with restrictions in place in August. Through those months of that first lockdown, I could not see my GP or go to the mental health clinic. Though I could speak to them over the phone. My complaint at work had to be put on hold because well, there was no work due to the lockdown. Though did have a few Zoom meetings and exchanged many emails with HR just to keep everything ticking over to show that I wasn’t going anywhere.

My mood was seriously low but not being at work made me realise just how much I hated being there. I knew I wanted to leave but not let this whole complaint thing slide. My boss broke employment law by changing my hours without my consent, he put me in a situation I struggled with due to childcare. I had the backing of my HR manager girlfriend and we even sought out proper legal advice via a lawyer too. We had a very strong case and began to build that case against my employer. This, of course, was more and more stress for me to handle. My diagnosed SAD began to seriously kick my arse what with everything going on. I need to talk to my GP and after conversing with the mental health clinic, I was prescribed anti-depressants, Venlafaxine.

DRUGS TAKE

It was August and lockdown was ending, my GP signed me off work for a month at the request of the mental health clinic and I got my first batch of medication. One a day for a month to see how I get on. I did was I was told and took the pills and I felt even lower than ever before. I had to tell my GP how bad the medication was making me feel, I was told to stick with it that my mood would eventually balance out, so I did. It was September and I still felt like shit, seriously down, the medication didn’t seem to be working. I reported back to my GP and was prescribed more Venlafaxine. I was told (again) to stick with it and that my mood would even out eventually, so I did and I was signed off work for another month. At this point, I got messages from my boss inquiring about my illness and when I would be coming back to work. Something he was not allowed to do as I had been signed off by my GP who had told me to avoid anything to do with work, info that I had passed into my employer. My boss was being kept in the loop whenever I spoke to my GP and yet, he sent me several messages saying I had to attend a ‘back to work meeting’ and more. It was bordering on harassment. This was something that helped strengthen our legal case against my employer too. I’m pretty sure he didn’t actually want me back, it was more a case of him being left in limbo and not knowing what was going on and just wanted to know if I was coming back or not.

Anyway, it was now October and my Venlafaxine had run out again, I was prescribed more even though it clearly was not working for me. In fact, it was having such an adverse effect on me that suicide entered my mind. I even began researching suicide on the internet (don’t do it folks, it’s seriously fucked up out there). I looked into the most painless way to end my life. I remembered my mom’s attempt from when I was a teenager and thought about doing that, just swallow a load of booze and pills. I planned on visiting several shops and chemists near me to buy as much paracetamol as I could via multiple visits over the course of several days, as we now have restrictions on how much you can buy in one visit. I then decided to look at the side effects of Venlafaxine. There was the usual loss of appetite, dizziness, sweating and so on. But the drug also had some severe side effects such as mania and an increased risk of suicide. Yup, I was taking an anti-depressant that made me even more depressed. It was me doing that bit of research that woke me up. As The Verve said: the drugs don’t work, they just make you worse. I think I was told of the side effects when the Venlafaxine was prescribed to me, I just didn’t listen or my depression made me forget.

DRUGS

So that was it, I had a new prescription of Venlafaxine (see the pic above, my actual medication) but I never took them. Those pills in that pic, dated the 12th of October 2020, were the last ones I had prescribed to me. I didn’t even take a single one, I kept them as a reminder of just how low I got. I stopped the medication myself, against the advice of my GP at the time. But I hadn’t told them about my suicidal thoughts. I’m sure that if I had, they would’ve taken me off the pills immediately anyway. I quit my job in November (even though I was still signed off by my GP), feeling a little better after a month without the medication. My girlfriend went back to work as an HR manager for an international company and I became a stay at home dad as her salary was more than enough to keep a roof over our head. I learned to control my depression myself, the gaming and writing massively helped. The fact I was now a stay at home dad meant my relationship with my son grew from strength to strength. I went from not feeling anything towards my son, to him and me now being inseparable. My work issue, the whole legal case and all, I won. My boss did break employment law and harassed me when I was signed off ill. So I got a nice several grand settlement. It was a very rough few months but I came out of it a better person.

Being diagnosed with SAD really helped in the long run. I look back on certain events and memories of my life and I now realise how I was suffering from depression long before I was diagnosed with it. Still, I had to be diagnosed and go through hell first. Before that diagnosis, I used gaming as a means to escape my (then) undiagnosed depression. It really helped too. One of the reasons I started this blog a few years ago was as a means to combat my depression that I didn’t even know I was suffering from at the time. All I knew was that writing, and writing about games mainly, made me feel a bit better when I was down.

DERPESSION MAN 2

It has been a little over two years since I was diagnosed with SAD in March of 2020, it’s been about a year and a half since I stopped taking the medication. My depression hasn’t gone away, I don’t think it ever will either. It is still there, I have days when it takes over and I feel like shit. Just last week, I had a couple of three days when my depression hit me like ton of bricks. Thankfully, my lass can spot the signs and knows when I may need a little lift. She got her mom to come round and look after the kids while we went out as a couple and had a few hours to ourselves, had a meal, a couple of drinks and a good chat. The depression comes and goes, often without any trigger, it just happens. Sometimes with a trigger, my aunt died of cancer last May and that was a massive test of trying to control my depression. I found solace in compiling her teenage poems into a book for her (royalties go to charity). An example of my writing being used to help keep me a bit more stable.

This is probably why working on the blog has massively increased the over last two years. Why I am doing more and more indie gaming reviews these days. It combines the two major factors that help me control my depression, gaming and writing. Indie publishers and developers really appreciate when their games get reviewed as it gives them a little boost, However, for me, I’m the one getting the boost when I get sent a game to play and review. My reviews may get these guys a sale or two, get their games known to more people but they help me manage my depression too.

Depression can really have an effect on how I perceive a game or even help with my mood too. Take two games that I have reviewed recently, Martha is Dead and CHANGE: A Homeless Survival Experience, as an example. With Martha, the game’s story deals with some pretty sensitive subjects such as death, depression and even suicide. Playing through that game affected me due to those themes and helped me to cope with my depression a bit more. CHANGE has been the most emotionally effective game I have ever played. Though only a game, playing as a homeless person and failing so many times, made me look at what I do have in my life and appreciate all that I had. The flip side to that is games that help get me out of a depressive funk. Titles with a minimal story but a lot of fun action. HyperParasite’s twin-stick shooting and non-copyright infringing pop culture character references put a massive smile on my face. Or maybe the brilliantly titled Alien Scumbags and its stupidly over the top violence, silly humour, shooty-platform action… and non-copyright infringing pop culture character references. Games really can affect me in many different ways when I’m feeling particularly deflated.

HYPERPARASITE

I’ve made several lifestyle changes too. I have massively cut back on the amount of booze I drink. I was a serious drinker at one point. I don’t know if I would say I was an alcoholic but I must’ve been borderline at least. But now? I know we are only in mid-March but I can count on one hand the times I have been out for or stayed in for a drink. Even last week when my girlfriend took us out for a meal when I had a bout of depression, I drank lemonade. I only ever drink on special occasions now, birthdays and the like and even then, I stay sensible with it. Still, Saint Patrick’s Day is coming up (probably today when I publish this) and I do already have some Guinness in ready, I think it is the law or something. Even so, I can still count my drinking sessions for this year on one hand. Alcohol is a depressant after all and cutting back as I have really seems to have helped out a lot.

I also now go to bed at a reasonable time. I used to stay up until 4 in the morning quite regularly, then I’d have to be up a 7 to get the kids ready for school. I’d then blame my tiredness on my depression and my depression on my tiredness. Now, I got to bed around 11 or 12 and try to get a good 7 hours of sleep. Routine is the key and sticking to it is even more important. Little changes in my life have helped to make me feel better, helped me manage my depression. And then there is gaming and writing, this has become my new medication, my Venlafaxine without the side effects and suicidal thoughts.

I honestly don’t really know what the point of me writing all of this was. I know it helped me to understand my depression a bit more. For me, writing works better than medication ever did. Look, if anyone out there is suffering from depression, especially us men as we act like this shit doesn’t affect us, speak to someone. Me going to my GP was the point where my life changed as being diagnosed with depression helped me to understand. It got worse before it got better, I admit… but it did get better. Crying is okay, talking about it is another option. If you are feeling down and depressed, concentrate on something that makes you feel better. For me, it is gaming and writing. The depression may never go away completely but you can control it.

GTA VI Confirmed By Rockstar… Kind Of, And Why I Don’t Seem To Care

I think I can safely say, without the use of hyperbole that the Grand Theft Auto franchise is fairly popular. The newest game in the series (that is fast becoming a decade old now), GTA V was somewhat popular too. Since its release, fans have been waiting for new game in the franchise. Today, Rockstar Games have semi-confirmed that a new GTA game is on the way.

ROCKSTAR LOGO

Taken from the official Rockstar website, the developers had this to say:

“With the unprecedented longevity of GTAV, we know many of you have been asking us about a new entry in the Grand Theft Auto series. With every new project we embark on, our goal is always to significantly move beyond what we have previously delivered — and we are pleased to confirm that active development for the next entry in the Grand Theft Auto series is well underway. We look forward to sharing more as soon as we are ready, so please stay tuned to the Rockstar Newswire for official details.

On behalf of our entire team, we thank you all for your support and cannot wait to step into the future with you!”

– Rockstar Games

As someone who was been a fan since day one, since before Rockstar Games even existed. Since I became a fan of the DMA Design from the Amiga years. Since I played the very first GTA back in 1997… I just can not muster any interest here. I have been sitting here trying to work out why this announcement just made me yawn instead of making me cheer.

GTA 1

There really are several reasons. First up, they’ve not really confirmed GTA VI. What they have said is that they are working on a new GTA game. I mean, that could be GTA: Online 2.0 for all we know. Yeah, it most probably is a new and ‘proper’ GTA but the point is that Rockstar have not said that it is GTA VI. But let’s just say it is GTA VI. Is this not a very low-key way to announce it? Look back at other announcements in the franchise. They’ve been big reveals, trailers that just came out of nowhere. To make an announcement for one of the biggest games ever in such a small way, along with other news about updates for GTA Online… it just seems a bit underwhelming, no?

The news of a new game is at the bottom of the pile of news about new content for GTA Online, yet nobody finds that strange? Shouldn’t a GTA VI announcement be gargantuan news? Shouldn’t it have its own dedicated announcement? Shouldn’t it be top of the pile of announcements and not at the bottom, a small paragraph that could be easily missed? Imagine if all major game announcements were made like this.

This is how the announcement read to me…

Huge news, we’re re-re-re-releasing GTA V again for the next gen consoles. More Online content that’s really the same shit we’ve been releasing the last few years. More ‘new’ cars and other cosmetics for GTA Online that really make no difference…

… and GTA VI.

GTA V

Then there’s the fact that a lot of the brains behind the GTA franchise have left Rockstar Games. Lazlow Jones, gone. Dan Houser, gone. Even the man who held the production of most, if not all of the studio’s games together, Leslie Benzies has gone. Those are just the big names we know about too. They have lost a lot of frontline talent over the last few years too.

For me, it’s hard to get excited when you know that a massive part of the talent who made the games is no more. Plus, Rockstar have said that active development is underway. Active development was also underway for Bully 2, Agent and other projects before they were canned. The main reason I just can’t get excited though is boredom. I am utterly bored of GTA now. Back when GTA was in its heyday, nobody could touch it. The Vice City and San Andreas days, the days of GTA IV even. The franchise plateaued years ago. I enjoyed GTA V while I was playing it but looking back on the game now, it really was a disappointment for me compared to other games in the series. The constant milking of the game and the online mode hasn’t helped much either.

GTA ONLINE

See, when GTA was king, so were Rockstar Games. There wasn’t a dev team out there that could touch them in terms of quality. Now? Now there are plenty of other studios who are capable of putting out games that are as good and even better in fact. Rockstar Games lost their lustre a while back, they are no longer the kings of the open-world game. The boredom I feel also stems from the fact that Rockstar have done nothing worthy with any of their other IPs. Bully 2? L.A. Noire 2? Max Payne 4? Yeah, they did Red Dead Redemption II back in 2018, a game I have a serious love/hate relationship with. Rockstar have some amazing IPs and yet they do nothing with them.

If this was a Bully 2 announcement, I’d be over the moon, I’d be singing the praises of the studio. Or how about a new IP, something fresh and different? But it’s (possibly) just more GTA and for me, the franchise has been run into the ground.