The ups, downs, film adaptations and the answer to the main question: “What happened to The House of the Dead and where did the Sega franchise go?”
It was Takashi Oda’s series that laid the trend for arcade virtual shooting galleries and greatly influenced not only the games in the halls, but also shooters in general. The series has become a classic and has moved to home consoles, at the same time becoming an inexhaustible source of memes and gags.
Inside spoilers for the plot of The House of the Dead 2
In this text, we will tell you how the series was born, how it stayed afloat for 24 years and how the zombie shooting range turned into a keyboard simulator, pinball and grindhouse comedy.
This text was written as part of the Longheads to Order initiative, at the request of NerdOfGalaxy.
The House of the Dead
The gaming market of the nineties was filled with console horror. Sega decided not to waste money and moved the popular genre to the arcade halls. It’s over with the arcade office for two players and light weapons. It was a very successful format then. To create the new franchise, the publisher contracted one of its internal studios, Sega AM1 (now known as WOW Entertainment).
The publisher already had a successful arcade railroad shooting gallery – Virtua Cop, released in 1994. The game was developed by game designer Yu Suzuki, creator of Virtua Fighter and Shenmue, with the support of Sega Studio AM2.
Initially, the publisher planned to simply change the setting and mood of Virtua Cop from a police theme to a horror theme, but the project changed a lot during the development process. Takashi Oda has just finished work on Puzzle and Action: Treasure Hunt and received a task from management to create a new arcade game, sharpened for control of a light gun.
Oda wanted to move away from playing Yu Suzuki and make his project more mature, realistic and scary. If Virtua Cop was as friendly to all ages as possible, then Oda’s project was focused primarily on adult players.
At first, they wanted to make ghosts as opponents, but they quickly abandoned the idea, and then, in the process of a general brainstorm, they chose a zombie theme. In addition to the usual living dead, Takashi decided to add evil spirits with original designs to the game – carnivorous frogs, mutated monkeys, all sorts of parasites and so on. Most of all, the designer wanted the player who came to the arcade hall and spent money on the game not to get bored and not regret the time spent.
They also decided to abandon the mechanics of shooting from Virtua Cop. She did not suit the game designer and he wanted to rethink the work of Yu Suzuki. Opponents in Virtua Cop ran across the screen in different directions, hid behind cover and tried in every possible way to get away from the bullets. The player, on the other hand, was helped to shoot by a special aiming system, which vaguely resembled modern console shooters with an auto-aim.
The arcade machine of the same name had rather powerful hardware, the weak point of which was only a poor 16-bit sound chip. In order to somehow compensate for the lack, the developers first of all invested in the picture and dynamics.
In the story, the government sent two agents to a mysterious mansion in which secret genetic experiments were once carried out. Naturally, they got out of control and the hell started to happen. Now the heroes, well armed, had to deal with the problem.
Together with the setting and the abandonment of the police theme, the developers also changed the heroes. The new protagonists are agents of the fictional AMS in noir coats and costumes. Takashi wanted to get away from stereotypes and abandon the standard image of gallant soldiers in overalls saving civilians. At the same time, the characters of The House of the Dead did not pursue good goals, did not want to save humanity or do something good. Instead, they had to get rid of the results of the experiments and remove the research records.
The developers decided to justify the zombies with a plot and all the devilry happening in the mansion was tied to experiments with DNA and cloning. Thus, the developers solved another problem – they made technical conventions a part of the plot.
The opponents in the game had several “layers”. Thus, the developers created a spectacular and in some ways even breakthrough, for that time, damage system. Under the skin, the enemies had meat and bones, which made the game, even with all the cartoonishness, seemed realistic and intimidating.
Such a system of damage heavily loaded the machine gun, which caused restrictions on the display of opponents. The developers simply could not afford to display many different types of enemies at the same time, which is why it was decided to spawn them in waves of several pieces and alternate their types.