ONE MORE GO: WHY TYPING OF THE DEAD MAKES ME FEEL SO ALIVE.


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6.29.2009

Margaret Robertson

12 Replies

I love spam poetry. I horde it and treasure it and dream of one day releasing it as a short anthology and making my fortune, as so many poets do. I got some very fine stuff through the other week, from Haley, who thought I might need some herbal penis enlargement pills and hoped these words might sway me to buy them from her:

Expand tog fab rococo,
Bawd parley meat palpal.
Dense murray glum racer!
Suet doomed horn crunch.
Coop detour confab.
Expand cower parley.
Confab jumpy tamer.
Boon echo whorl top?
Crikey, tamer sanded yule.
Jumpy parley confab.
Tog docile.

I didn’t order, despite her best efforts. If only she’d sent me something more like this, I might have acquiesced:

Angry mailman, great dane, mustang.
Robotic persona. I’m Spartacus!
Get away from me.
Used police car,
sports buffs, million eyes.
Granddad vacation.
Masticating incredibly
gentleman bitchiness.
Maul, give, bump
nitrous oxide, testosterone.
Hollow, sluggish, maggot.
Show biz.
Mannish ukulele demon.

That, though, isn’t spam. It’s level 2 of Typing Of The Dead. And Typing Of The Dead, put simply, is a light-gun game where you type words rather than firing bullets. It’s absurd, of course, and your first instinct is that someone at Smilebit simply raided an English dictionary at random. To ace a ten-zombie challenge, you’ll need to nail the following: abstinence, acrophobia, air kissing, airsick bag, apostrophe, back up!, backbiting, beefy hands, bionic boy, bobbed hair. Random, right?

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But soon enough, you’re not fighting with spam, you’re fighting with fleeting little haikus. Arch little combos. Is it really fluke that the game follows ‘Hate the bitch!’ with ‘Which hole?’ Or ‘mixed bathing’ with ‘neurotic mother?’ And then tiny, fragile stories start to appear. Some sad – ‘Paediatrician. Overworked. Disappear.’ Some happy – ‘Lisping. It’s love. Chill out.’ Some down-right disturbing. ‘Limp-wristed. Mr Pervert. Tell your wives. Beat to a pulp.’ A core delight of the game is never quite being sure who’s got the dirty mind – you or it.

It’s little surprise, then, that I love it so much. It’s absurd, it’s funny, it’s got words I actually had to look up in it. It has dirty jokes and knowing little winks to camera. I’d love it without any of those, though. I love it because it’s typing.

Typing games are brilliant. I was endlessly suckered into Typeracer when it launched, and still sneak back now and again to flex my 100wpm muscles. I was thrilled to bits when Preloaded wanted to fit a taunt-typing challenge into the otherwise historically accurate 1066, one of the prettier projects I’ve had a chance to help out on of late. Typing games make me happy, because they let me do something I love, something that’s currently endangered, something I think we’ve taken for granted for far too long.

They let me press buttons with my fingers.

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The last few years have been a flurry of touchscreens and cameras and accelerometers. All of a sudden, I can play games by tapping tissue boxes and pulling faces. This is good. This is progress. There should be all kinds of different games, all kinds of difference input systems. But this is proliferation, not evolution. These motion based inputs aren’t better than pressing buttons. At best, they’re an addition, at worst – whisper it – they’re a poor relation.

No squeals of indignation, please! Don’t burn me at the stake. I’m just saying, quietly, that I’m not so sure that motion controlled games are really all that good. I’m not really seeing any evidence that people like playing them. They like buying them alright, no question there. But actually playing them? For every Flight Control fan there are a hundred Flower players cursing the PS3′s Sixaxis. For every Wii Sports there are a hundred almost-any-other-non-Nintendo-made-Wii-games-picked-at-random.

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Pressing buttons, on the other hand, is always fun. Indeed, it’s more than fun, it’s downright narcotic. For a start, the feedback is great. I make a magnificent clatter when I play Typing Of The Dead. I feel like sparks are flying from my fingertips. Much better than flailing around in mid-air.

More importantly, perhaps, I get to use my hands, and hands are magic. As far as I know, nothing else in the human body has them beat for complexity and sensitivity. They can do ten things at once at a hundred miles and hour, and using them at their fullest capacity – whether stretched over a QWERTY or curled round a Controller S – is an object lesson in your own brilliance. Far more satisfying than using them as the big, dumb paddles most Wii or EyeToy games ask them to be.

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Touching hardware matters. Having your hands on the keys matters. Smilebit knew that. It’s why they made Typing Of The Dead. It’s not a game that teaches you how to type. It’s a game that teaches you how awesome you are. And it’s why they gave the main characters their magnificent DreamCast backpacks, complete with front-mounted keyboards. The whole game is a hymn to the glory of pressing buttons. So add your voice to the choir – to the demented, disjointed choir – as it sings its songs of ‘Breath. Noodle. Postwar. Patron. Tannin. Sprain. String. Wow!’ Testify to the pleasure of clicking contacts as you tell strange tales of ‘Unwanted muscle. Nasal implant. Go to Coventry’.

It’s a game so good you can play along to a video of it on YouTube (where these examples come from) if, like me, you can’t get your old copy to run on your new laptop. But one way or another, play. I can guarantee, with much more certainty than Haley ever could, that it will you bring you Hours Of Pleasure and Bigger Thrills. Or your money back.

[Margaret Robertson is the former editor of Edge magazine and now videogame consultant. One More Go is her regular Offworld column in which she explores the attractions of the games she just can't stop going back to.]

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COMMENTS

  1. elliot winner

    Looks like I’m going to have to dig out my Dreamcast keyboard. I haven’t played this game in ages!


  2. I recently learned that a close friend, who happened to be a zombie-flick-connoisseur, was unable to touch time, and became obsessed with finding a copy of this for her. Eventually dug it up on the abandonware site “Home of the Underdogs.” Mac users: runs great under Parallels, not at all under VMWare Fusion. No idea why.

    Along the way, I learned that sequel — Typing of the Dead 2 — came out for both Windows and Mac OS X! … but only in Japan. Holy crap, guys, this would be a gigantic hit today.

    I’ve been throwing around the idea of developing a Left4Dead TotD clone, but it would be necessarily be Windows-only, so. Meh.



  3. A New Challenger

    Of note: this is available on GameTap if you prefer a more legal way to play on PC. It’s also not too difficult to find brand new copies of the Dreamcast version, as well as brand new or gently used Dreamcast keyboards, and with two keyboards you can easily play a two-player game.

    The problem of course is finding an adequate surface for those keyboards to rest on if you don’t have an appropriate height coffee table, and this is why I haven’t taken it out for a spin beyond my initial few first moments.

    And I just love the fact that there exists an arcade version of this game.


  4. Now this is pure game design genius. Typing of the Dead (with the exception of the typing, of course) appears to be the exact same game as the arcade machine House of the Dead 2. The sprites, the settings – all the scenes posted here are identical. Wikipedia tells me that HotD2 also spawned English of the Dead and Pinball of the Dead. Four games for the production cost of one!


  5. This game was stunningly creative… not only were the things you had to type delightfully random, but the game required different kinds of typing skills at various stages. One boss had you typing enormous run-on sentences while being chased by a huge chainsaw-wielding zombie through a maze. In another boss battle, a three headed hydra asked you a question, and you had to type the correct answer from three presented on screen to shoot the appropriate head. The clever touches and outright absurdity of the things you have to type make the game a delight to play.


  6. One of the things that’d throw me off with this game was using punctuation marks.



  7. human remains

    I played the arcade version of this in Osaka, but to be honest at first I scoffed when I saw it. Imagining it as a way for ambition crazed office workers to relax of an evening. But as soon as I’d played it once I was hooked. Gonna look into getting this running on my mac somehow.



  8. In college, I was the official champ of this game in my dorm. The weird little zombie frog things were my kryptonite, though, as they were typically shift + number keys. This was during the advent (or early popularity, at least) of 1337 speak, so my even dorkier friend out-typed me during those sections.

    Now that it’s fairly mainstream to be The Guy who’s ready for a zombie outbreak, I feel pretty hardcore to be The Guy Who’s Ready For A Zombie Outbreak Which Can Only Be Defeated By A High and Accurate WPM Score.



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