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. Suman1083 says:

    Man, these are the type of games that made the Japanese game dev scene so wild at the time. During that era Sega was putting out some really crazy, but innovative stuff like Chu Chu Rocket, Samba de Amigo, Seaman, and of coarse Typing of the Dead. On a side note, I actually was lucky enough to pick this up a few years ago at a flea market. The best $5 I have ever spent.

  2. negativedge says:

    Sega’s 99-02 output is unrivaled in gaming, both in creativity and in execution. Those days are missed.

  3. coupsan says:

    what.

  4. coupsan says:

    What is going on.

  5. Pishtaco says:

    For a more low-rent typing/horror/action game, you can try the Clatter of the Keys. It’s space invaders, except instead of space you have a sheet of paper moving through a typewriter, and you fire off words, sending yourself deeper into Lovecraftian madness.

  6. Heliocentric says:

    How do you buy the damn thing? I would genuinely like to own this. When i found it installed in a college computer a few years ago my typing speed dramatically improved.

    • vasagi says:

      Pssst. was on home of the underdogs……..you didnt see me right!

  7. Rinox says:

    As my daily contribution to to the internet, I would like to add that I would have the same childish amusement over my cat’s tongue unawareness, but then always tried to have it pull it back in by gently tipping the piece of tongue sticking out. It would go ‘hey…oh I see *retreats tongue and goes back into cat closed eyes zen mode*”

    And yes, uhm, games like.

  8. Dorian Cornelius Jasper says:

    My Shetland Sheepdog, on the other hand, prefers to sniff corners. Oh yes.

  9. Mike says:

    That photo at the end is great. :P

  10. Seniath says:

    A few years ago, my mum wanted to learn out to touch type. I bought her this, and she thanked me.

    No, really she did.

  11. guigr says:

    Sadly this game doesn’t even work well with AZERTY keyboards. >You can’t type the numbers and you get stuck very fast.

  12. phil says:

    The lesson ‘zombies make learning fun’ seems to a singularly ignored by the DCSF – this could be the sort of bold new vision that could save Labour.

  13. Flimgoblin says:

    Fantastic, never actually paid any attention to what I was typing when I played it last – maybe it’s an attempt to subliminally control people with R.E.M. lyrics?

  14. Hmm-Hmm. says:

    Ah, another game of the fine people who brought us Limbo of The Lost.

    Or, at least, that’s what my first thought was.

  15. Andrew Dunn says:

    This article is amazing. With this, Alec, you have bought several years of grace.

  16. Viskernus says:

    You can type numbers on an azerty keyboard just fine, you just need to press shift to do it.

    Also, I’m certain TOTD is aware of its own cataclysmic silliness, even if HOTD2 was not. It always seemed like the game layered over the other game was mocking the latter. Regardless, it’s a work of art for the ages.

  17. Premium User Badge Lambchops says:

    Played the demo and it is indeed genius. Some of the phrases are great.

    I’m a pretty decent at typing but I swear if this had been in my school the battle to get the highest score would have had us all amazing at it.

    The only slight problem with it is that it’s presumable got the special character settings of American keyboards (meaning I get awfully confused with apostrophes and the hash key and so on) and it doesn’t seem to like the right shift key for some reason. Still these foibles can be overlooked because of the sheer genius of the game – i’m going to track me down a full version.

  18. Juz says:

    Suffer like G did?

  19. Diogo Ribeiro says:

    I’m dispirited to find RPS is managing to write just about every game I had planned to write in the near future :/ But this was such a good piece so all’s well with the world. I might still write about it, though :)

  20. Willy359 says:

    Dammit, my Dreamcast and this very game are on a shelf not 15 feet away, but the keyboard is in a box I know not where.

    I’d also like to note that I used to have that exact same make and model of cat, and I still miss her sometimes. Sniff.

  21. EyeMessiah says:

    Beautiful. Beautiful, beautiful.

    I love my Dreamcasts. And so does G.

  22. Gamer_V says:

    I don’t wannaaa die/i>

    I got this from the underdogs a long time ago, and although it does work on Vista, it doesn’t seem to accept any special characters. Which means you can’t get past chapter two or three. Changing the keyboard country settings and such doesn’t seem to change anything…

  23. nabeel says:

    I looove Typing of the Dead! Isn’t there like a third one coming soon or something?

  24. The Sombrero Kid says:

    i’ve got this on my netbook it’s super.

  25. Cooper says:

    Yeah, I have this on my comp back home. Makes me very happy. Got it from the Underdogs or somewhere like that I think, never ever seen a commercially available copy. It’s an amazing gaming piece.

  26. dingo says:

    I bought it back then but it was fucking hard / too hard with a German keyboard since the only supported keyboard layout in the game is the US one.
    Once they introduced special characters it was going downhill fast.
    Will beat it one day when I get hold of a US keyboard…

  27. Calabi says:

    Yep, sums up whats so great about this game.

    It perfectly set you up into this frenzy of typing, and then does its best to poke you and distract you from getting those words right.

    Loads of times I had to stop, or stumbled and laughed because of the words that have popped up on screen.

    There must be a hell of a lot of words in it because I have seen very few repeated.

  28. Karry says:

    I’d appreciate this game more, if it would actually run on my machine, instead of simply dropping me back to the desktop.

  29. Miko says:

    This is one of my all-time favourite games. I actually own a legit copy – I don’t remember where I even got it – but the installer is broken or doesn’t like anything newer than Win2k, so I had to download a copy to get it to work. Well worth it though.

  30. Davee says:

    Dang, dosn’t seem to work for me either. “Fel: (Error:) Unsuported launguage.” Do I have to have a english-languaged windows for it to work? I tried switching to EN down in the taskbar, but it didn’t help. But it seems utterly redicilously fun :D

    And my cat does that sometimes too. Friggin hillarious in the same way :)

  31. Muzman says:

    There’s a knight looking guy brandishing his crotch and requesting that I “touch his wattle
    Will there be a sequel called Euphemism of the Dead?

  32. fuggles says:

    Laughed so hard at one hydra – “Things that women have” and one of the answers was “abortions”. So very, very wrong.

    Good reference in House of the Dead Overkill on the wii – “Do you want to suffer like G?”

  33. Charles Wheeler says:

    G’s Blood!

    Please be safe, G!

  34. The Apologist says:

    So, your cat looks exactly like mine. E X A C T L Y. And my cat does the tongue thing.

    To the point where I am going to have you arrested for breaking in to my house

  35. NoahApples says:

    YES.

    That’s all there is to say.

  36. Adrian says:

    this is genious! i played it all day!!!!

  37. Sucram says:

    I have put this on dozens of machines for people new to computers. Though it doesn’t really teach good typing technique (there’s a proper training section, but nobody uses it) it does help people get familiar with the keyboard. Also joy of joy, it works on all the 8 year old laptops I’m sent.

    One nice aspect is the difficulty scales with how fast you type early on. Still I rarely see my students get much beyond chapter 2 since the bosses start asking them obscure questions.

    Would love a sequel which focused a bit more on actually teaching typing and which penalised mistakes.

  38. Dominic White says:

    ToTD is a gem. And the sillyness is all intentional. I mean, they even went to the effort of replacing the zombies throwing axes with squeaky toy hammers.

    I mean, seriously, one of the bosses makes you rattle off rhymes and lymericks, and one of them was:
    “There once was an Echidna from Vegas,
    Whose hairstyle was loud and outrageous.
    When asked by the cops, “why the dreadlocks?”
    He said the idea was SEGA’s”

    I recall that for you US’ians, it’s on Gametap, but otherwise it’s almost impossible to get legally, because it went out of print almost immediately after it came out, which REALLY SUCKS. Thankfully, I have an original copy on disc, which I will never, ever part company with.

    Best typing tutor ever. Sure, it doesn’t teach you technique, but it teaches you to type quickly and accurately while a shambling undead horror attempts to chew your face off while asking you to ‘Shave His Gerbil’.

  39. aerozol says:

    This is one of my favourite games ever. I’m still hoping Typing of the Dead II gets an English translation, but it may be a bit late for that..
    And it does teach good typing, imo, if you want to get anywhere on higher difficulties. The practice levels let you practice with letters you’ve been missing etc. But purely the fact that this game got kids in japanese arcades dropping money into machines to blow up zombies while… learning how to type, makes it an educational success.

    Although Mavis Beacon is still scarier.
    http://preview.tinyurl.com/2cdz32g

  40. Koshmaar says:

    If you like Typing of the Dead, you’ll also like Ninja Cat and Zombie Dinosaurs :) It’s 2d platformer-typing crossover, that was inspired by TotD. I was playing it, and then lost access to it, and wished for some alternative. Then I went indie and as my first project decided to make something with it… and I did it!

    You can play Ninja Cat for free right in the browser: http://www.koshmaar.pl/game/ninja-cat-and-zombie-dinosaurs/

    And here’s trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iWN__TSZHDY