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