Retro: The Typing Of The Dead

By Alec Meer on September 16th, 2009 at 10:37 pm.

No.

Sometimes when my cat is licking herself clean, something I can’t see or hear will distract her. A rustle. An insect. Someone belching 18 miles away. The ghost of Michael Jackson. Y’know, whatever it is that their tiny animal brains mysteriously fixate on without warning. So she’ll stop cleaning herself, close her mouth and stare unblinkingly at whatever it is. Once a while, though, she’ll close the mouth but forget to put her tongue away first. So she sits there with her little pink tongue sticking out, sometimes for ten or fifteen straight minutes, looking charmingly, ludicrously foolish. She doesn’t seem even slightly aware that she’s doing it, or of how ridiculous, how hilarious she looks. And that only makes this absurd image all the more delightful.

And that, right there, is The Typing Of The Dead.


it did! it totally did!

I wasn’t in any of the design meetings, of course. And I’m 100% sure someone, somewhere in the process knowingly introduced its absolute absurdity, that it’s mean to be so apocalyptically silly. That doesn’t matter. What matters is that the game itself just doesn’t seem to know it’s standing there with its tongue stuck out. It doesn’t seem to realise it’s about defeating zombies and hydra and 40-foot fish-demons with man-size spears by trying to type “I’m fine, thank you” or “ankle fetish” as quickly as possible. It’s a port of The House of the Dead II, the arcade lightgun shooter, but almost nothing is changed. Your character and the monsters he fights seem convinced he’s shooting them with guns.

Made-for-TV-movie

why? nobody knows. Nobody.

In actual fact, he’s running around in a business suit with a Dreamcast strapped to his back and a keyboard hanging around his waist. With these words, he kills the enemy. The pen is indeed mightier than the sword. It’s just a straight graphical swap – nothing else in the game makes even the slightest reference to it. No explanation is offered as to how or why this would possibly stop an undead invasion. And that only makes this absurd game all the more delightful.

Do the locomotion

Where did the words, the sentences and phrases come from? Did someone write them manually? Was it some automated translation from the original Japanese text gone tremendously wrong? Were they obtained by randomly grabbing webpage or document extracts? Were they inserted into the game by a cable attached directly to the hindbrain of a dangerous, baby-eating psychotic? I don’t know. I don’t want to know. I just love that they’re there, gloriously random, never predictable, but yet so often somehow related to or evocative of what’s attacking you.

The phantom of Samoa

These monsters want to communicate something to you – some primal urge, some sadness weighing on their minds, a song lyric they can’t quite place, a string of nonsense generated from the decaying pathways in their brain… They’ve got their tongues stuck out and they don’t know it. They think they look like ultimate predators, but all you can do is laugh at them. And type. Type faster! Faster! FASTER!

less offensive than Cobain's Guitar hero appearance, surely?

She sent me a card!

And oh, the voice-acting. The inhuman intonations, the ritually misplaced emphasis, the gibberish-sentences… Even at the time, when production standards were regularly much lower than today, it was stunningly, jaw-droppingly awful. Replaying it now, I’m genuinely amazed it hasn’t passed into online legend in the way All Your Base Are Belong To Us did. It’s miraculously bad. It’s so, so perfect for this ridiculous, insane, impossible game.

Zombie in a car! Yes! YES!

Perfect sushi topping

Why does it exist? Nominally, it’s a typing tuition program. I’m not convinced it succeeds at that. Perfect touch-typing yields high scores, but to a great extent you can just bludgeon your way through, just enjoying the insanity but teaching your muscle memory very little. I don’t think it teaches, really, but I do think it turns typing into tension. There’s a wonderful desperation to it, especially in the boss fights – long, complicated, lunatic phrases you desperately try to hammer out before this massive thing smacks you right in the screen. Your fingers stumble, drift just one key to the left or the right, and it feels so much like a weapon jamming. You’re sure you’re doing it right, but something’s resisting. On-screen, a gigantic demon is demanding “Touch my wattle” as it hurls mystical fireballs at you, and you’re shaking with laughter – but you’re also terrified. It’s going to get you, unless you type faster, harder, faster, harder, faster, harder…

Rub this on your skin to make it brown

There isn’t anything like The Typing of the Dead. It is one of gaming’s most singular artifacts. It can never be equalled, it can never be beaten. It’s gaming’s equivalent of Van Gogh’s ear-removal (at least as legend tells it). A moment of absolute insanity, absolute, reckless, unfathomable stupidity – yet one that’s unforgettable, almost sublime. You type to kill zombies – zombies from a strange, terrible, wonderful universe in which everyone’s afraid of words and no-one ever learned how to act. How did this happen? I don’t ever want to know. I’m just infinitely glad it did.

There’s still a demo available. You should totally try it.

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102 Comments »

  1. Batolemaeus says:

    First i thought: “Wait, his cat does that too?”
    Then i saw the picture. HE STOLE MY CAT! Give her back ffs!

  2. LewieP says:

    I genuinely believed that after the release of Typing of the dead, we were going to see typing spin offs for many major game series.

  3. Batolemaeus says:

    Mh, no editing feature? Bah.
    I’ll make sure i play this on a long weekend with a few bottles of beer. It seems those are mandatory for playing and enjoying this fully.

  4. CMaster says:

    I recall playing the demo back when it was new. I had a good time – I also seem to remember it getting a favourable review in that month’s PC Format.

    Much like LewieP, I thought we were going to see much more of that sort of thing.

  5. Garg says:

    I remember at school when this came out; the line “there was nothing we could do” intoned in a completely emotionless voice being something that was oft repeated at appropriately tragic moments in the day.

  6. ChaosSmurf says:

    How bad I am at this game worries me. I thought I was good at typing.

    Really nicely written piece.

    In addition: KITTY :3

  7. ChampionHyena says:

    Ohhhh, memories.

    I’ve always been a huge House of the Dead fan, ever since the arcades (which was always the purest form of zombie shooting, yanno). House of the Dead II has always been the greatest of them all, not as unrefined as the series’ freshman outing but not as self-aware as the cynical follow-ups.

    The sheer ridiculity of the game was part of its charm. The absolutely atrocious voice acting, the nonsensical evil plot, the soundtrack that was equal parts thrash metal and mellotron, the inexplicably designed power-ups, the decaying Venetian setting… it all became so fascinatingly surreal. Again, I have to wonder–as Alec did–whether human beings were involved with its construction. Was it built by people who so perfectly understood the horror movie aesthetic? Was it warped by a transition between Japanese and Western aesthetics? Was it assembled by fragments of a team that never communicated? Was it made by a robot? An alien? A zombie?

    Typing of the Dead, to me, was a curio. If it had merely existed like this–never having been a rail shooter–it would have been such a mind-bending Dali-esque masterpiece that the world wouldn’t know what to do with it. I like the effect that it has, though. Every letter is a gunshot. Every letter cuts your enemies open. Using keyboards as we now all do, the old-timey rattle and click that gave typing on a typewriter so much ‘oomph’ and novelty is gone. There’s something to be said for replacing that impact with exploding zombies.

    Lastly, to this day I wish there were a mainstream shooter that would handle body deformation the way House of the Dead did. Big gapng holes, limbs just coming off, heads flipping through the air as they’re shot off… Sure, Left 4 Dead let you put big Source-style hole decals in your enemy and clip arms and legs and heads, but… it’s not the same. Viva House of the Dead.

    Nerdy Kitty-centric Post Script: Alec, is that actually your cat? She looks exactly like mine.

  8. Simon says:

    This is one of the greatest games ever made. I picked it up for $5 years ago. Had countless hours of fun typing my way through this during class… :D
    This and Crimson Land’s type-o-shooter thingy

  9. Premium User Badge

    Lambchops says:

    I tried to find this game after hearing about it in a Yahtzee review but couldn’t seem to get a hold of it.

    I’ll need to give that demo ago the game does look gloriously insane.

    I sense an alternative career for Mavis Beacon as a teacher in the art of killing zombies.

    • ChaosSmurf says:

      I’m pretty sure that acquiring any more than the demo will be nearly impossible outside CERTAIN MEANS. I’m pretty sure it’s easy to find by said means, however.

  10. airtekh says:

    Ahhhh. I remember playing the demo of this off the PCGUK discs wayyyyy back.

    I use the dvorak keyboard layout to type now though, so I’d imagine there would be some frustration with the game not mapping the keys correctly; resulting in a flying axe being embedded in my (virtual) head.

  11. solipsistnation says:

    I had this on the Dreamcast– the original purpose was to sell Dreamcast keyboards (which were just cheap PC keyboards with a Dreamcast controller plug) and thus get keyboards into peoples’ houses, setting the stage for future games requiring keyboards. You can see how well that worked in practice.

  12. Ben says:

    The story that most people tell about Van Gogh’s ear is apocryphal. For one thing, it wasn’t actually his ear–just his earlobe. And it is generally accepted today that he cut it off as a result of suffering a seizure while shaving, not because he was loony. Several doctors had diagnosed him as having epilepsy, and he was taking medication for it at the time.

    • Alec Meer says:

      Aye, but I’m specifically referring to the quasi-folklore version that everyone knows.

    • The Sombrero Kid says:

      actually they found a letter recently from Van Gough to his cousin detailing how a man who he was competing with for the love of some woman cut it off, i think the other guy was semi famous too.

  13. Seth says:

    Typing

    OF THE DEAD.

    … I thank you.

  14. Goose says:

    My cat does that too. Its awesome. Also, his fangs are about 3mm too big for his mouth, so they stick out a bit just to add that to the effect.

    I absolutely loved this game. It was just so awesome. My typing skills are pretty good (90WPM) so I was able to absolutely slaughter everything that it threw at me. I think I got hit a total of twice by the time I’d finished the end boss.

  15. Arathain says:

    Oh lord I love this game. It’s actually the definitive version of HOT2, I reckons. It’s also, unthinkably, just a good game. It totally works. It was so clearly a labour of love for its designers. The mini-games are excellent too.

    The voice-acting… I really wondered if it wasn’t actually some very clever synth program, because while it kind of sounded like people the intonation was so completely consistently wrong I could never imagine and English speaker saying that stuff. That, or they had really good voice actors who could do that deliberately.

  16. abigbat says:

    Bizarrely enough I was actually playing this last week! Fantastic game and genuinely helped my typing back in the day.

  17. NukeLord says:

    I too am saddened there are no other games like this. What I wouldn’t give for the ability to play, eg. Team Fortress 2 by typing phrases such as “Eyelashed together”

    Also, it seems you all own the same cat.

    • jolson42 says:

      Science has discovered that there is, in fact, only one cat in the entire universe, forever travelling through time to be with all of it’s owners at once.

  18. Mastrix says:

    Amazingly actually, I still have my keyboard. And I used it for a multitude of games, like….. Phantasy Star Online, and….uh…. this. Yeah. That’s about it.

  19. Psychopomp says:

    SUFFER LIKE G DID?

    • Premium User Badge

      Arathain says:

      Yes! Exactly. Why was it intoned as a question? Wonderful.

  20. Marvin says:

    The end sequence was particularly special…

    *SPOILER*

    It would play one of a few parodies of the HotD2 ending, such as the Goldman jumping off the building with a bungee cord, playing a comedy boing sound, then reversing the sequence. This was followed by a credits sequence where typing the staff names would trigger a series of dancing zombies to emerge from glass tanks.

  21. Markoff Chaney says:

    This is a fantastic little educatainment title. There have been a couple other Mavis Beacon pretenders, but none as wonderfully engaging, and heart pounding, as this one. IIRC, there was a second one released in Japan, but it still had mostly English typing. I could be wrong, though. I often am.

    Neither of my cats resemble Ripley. Alien is an ornery Tabby and Ella is a puppy in the guise of a long haired white cat. Perhaps I’ve strayed too far from the hive… ;)

  22. CMaster says:

    Apparently there was a sequel.
    That is only out in Japan.
    Odd.

    • Smee says:

      Not only that, but this first one was released as a cabinet arcade game over there as well. Just a reskinned HotD 2 cabinet with a couple of grey keyboards stuck to the front, no lie.

      I had a go. To my suprise, the game was in Japanese. I died. Quickly.

  23. Railick says:

    I’m going to go home and demand that my wife “touch my waddle” Whilst making that pose. I’m almost certain she will :P

  24. Railick says:

    For some reason the phrase “Touch my Brad Wardell” popped into my mind when I saw this.

  25. ascagnel says:

    Nobody’s mentioned the coop in this game. It was networked (although I could have done it w/ two keyboards) and seeing the random phrases was a hoot.

  26. jonfitt says:

    Mavis Beacon Teaches Death!
    The pen is mightier than the sword and all that.

  27. Kast says:

    Aww, man, I loved this game. Still do. Kinda wishing I hadn’t sold it to a friend for a fiver now.

  28. Stromko says:

    I played this a lot back when I had a Dreamcast, in fact for some strange reason when I gave my Dreamcast away I kept Typing of the Dead and the keyboard periphereal. Even though I’ll probably never own a Dreamcast again. Weird.

    Anyway, I was always a little stressed when I played a light-gun game, I wasn’t that great at it and most of them are designed to pump all the quarters out of you (they’re difficult). But Typing of the Dead? One thing I could do was type like a motherfucker. Years of playing MUDs, MUXes, and other text-based worlds had refined that skill to a fine edge. (Although my 10-Key skills, which were rather more appropriate to every job I ended up having, were left in the dust)

    These days you can still legitimately play Typing of the Dead on PC. Sorry to rain on that parade. Actually it’s on the premium pack over on Gametap, so it costs money, too. A good deal if you want access to the other games in said pack, though.

  29. James G says:

    I never played the game at the time, my typing being atrocious, but I remember the reviews. I’m half surprised that PopCap haven’t tried to do something similar in their own little way. While I’m sure their approach would be entirely aware of the positioning of its tongue (namely, in its cheek) this could easily be something that would adapt to their style.

    • moo says:

      PopCap released Typer Shark a long while back.
      Facebook has a Typing Maniac game.

  30. Ginger Yellow says:

    Co-op featured TotD on the Dreamcast retrospective in their most recent episode, and had much fun with the dialogue and the words you had to type. I can just about remember playing the PC demo way back when. Good times.

  31. moo says:

    Suffer Like G Did? is in All My Base territory.
    Plenty of commenters referenced it when HOD Overkill was announced.
    I believe there was a All work and no play makes jack a dull boy line in the game somewhere.

  32. Scott says:

    Who thought it would be a good idea to hardcode the keys in this game? I can’t play with Dvorak. :(

  33. Pod says:

    It took me ages to beat that stupid boss with the trident (I think he’s in the first few seconds of the video Marvin linked to). I didn’t realise that you didn’t have to do capital letters, and it took me a while longer to realise that shift+o actually generated 3 or 4 characters to the game, so you would miss twice as much as you would hit each time you did a capital letter :(

  34. Tikey says:

    This game had me at “It’s Polka time”.

  35. Jazmeister says:

    I’ve had this demo installed for years.

  36. sinister agent says:

    Typing of the Dead is one of the few games I will bother to bring up in conversation with people I doubt are interested in games. It’s just brilliant, sheer fun in every way, and the only typing tool I’ve ever used that actually improved my typing rather than making it considerably worse via boredom.

    And don’t even get me started on the practice modes, one of which punishes you if you make a single mistake by having you punched to death by a zombie mime.

  37. Stu says:

    This isn’t the only Sega game to get the Typing treatment; Typing Space Harrier was released for PCs in Japan.

    Incidentally, Margaret Robertson wrote about this game for Offworld a couple of months ago: http://offworld.com/2009/07/one-more-go-or-why-typing-of-t.html

  38. Subjective Effect says:

    @sinister agent – yup, this game taught me to type. No lie. I love, the gf loves it, her sister loves and so does her sister’s bf. Its all love for Typing of the Dead.

    I first read about it in PC Gamer UK and though “Yes! Eat THAT Mavis Bacon!”. In my postbox 3 days later.

  39. roBurky says:

    I’ve actually been playing a lot of Typgun recently. Doesn’t have the ludicrosity that Alec praises here, but it’s still a great typing shootery thing.

    http://www.yoyogames.com/games/show/878

  40. Carra says:

    Hardcoded keys?

    Azerty here, meh.

  41. tapanister says:

    One of the best reviews ever written. Or maybe, I just had too much to drink. Either way, I feel happy to have read it. Yay.

    Touch my wattle now, bitchez.

  42. Dave says:

    “How could anyone do this.”

    “Don’t come! Don’t come!”

  43. tapanister says:

    Oh by the way I think RPS have changed their “R” logo (the one that appears left of the web adress thingy from a black background to dark brown. I see what you did tharrr.

  44. lx12p says:

    and it works on vista

  45. Lu-Tze says:

    Demo + Beer + Geek Friends = At least an hour of hilarity. Worth it for that alone.
    My mate was unlucky enough to get Medical Terms as the dictionary theme for one of the hordes…
    “F@#K THAT!”
    That single incident made me buy it years ago, never regretted it.

  46. Bruut says:

    I saw this once and it was an instant–no-thinking-required-get-that-now. Greatest game ever.

  47. Jetsetlemming says:

    I recently reinstalled this. Gonna try getting the netplay to work tonight. Hell yes. That third screenshot is the best part of the normal game for me, btw. That zombie’s like “Your brains? Fuck ‘em. I learned to drive a car, look at me. I’m a fucking zombie driving a fucking ca- *crashes*”

  48. alice says:

    G’S BLOODSTAINS!

    WE HAVE TO SAVE G!

  49. Psychopomp says:

    WE’RE MEETING G OVER THERE!