The House of the Dead (video game)

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The House of the Dead
House Of The Dead, Thelogo.png
Developer(s)Sega AM1
Director(s)Takashi Oda
Composer(s)Tetsuya Kawauchi
SeriesThe House of the Dead
Platform(s)Arcade, Saturn, Microsoft Windows, mobile phone
  • JP: September 13, 1996
  • WW: March 4, 1997
  • JP: March 26, 1998
  • NA: March 31, 1998
  • EU: 1998
Genre(s)Rail shooter
Mode(s)Single-player, multiplayer
Arcade systemSega Model 2[2]

The House of the Dead is a first-person light gun shooter arcade game with a horror theme, released by Sega in Japan on September 13, 1996, and later internationally on March 4, 1997. It is the first game in the House of the Dead series. Players assume the role of agents Thomas Rogan and "G" in their efforts to combat the products of the dangerous, inhumane experiments of Dr. Curien, a mad scientist.

The House of the Dead has been, along with Resident Evil, credited with popularising zombie video games, as well as re-popularising zombies in wider popular culture from the late 1990s onwards, leading to renewed interest in zombie films during the 2000s. The House of the Dead has also been credited with introducing fast running zombies, which became popular in zombie films and video games during the 2000s.


The House of the Dead is a rail shooter light gun game. Players use a light gun (or mouse, in the PC version) to aim and shoot at approaching zombies. The characters' pistols use magazines which hold 6 rounds; players reload by shooting away from the screen. When a player sustains damage or shoots an innocent, one point of health is removed. The continue screen appears when all health is lost. If the player runs out of continues, the game is over. First-aid packs are available throughout the game which restore one point of health; some can be obtained from rescued hostages, while others are hidden inside certain breakable objects. Special items can be found within other breakables, granting a bonus to the player who shoots them. The player can earn additional health power-ups at the end of each level based on the number of hostages rescued.

Throughout the course of the game, players are faced with numerous situations in which their action (or inaction) will have an effect on the direction of gameplay.[3] This is exemplified in the opening stage of the game when a hostage is about to be thrown from the bridge to his death. If the player saves the hostage, they will enter the house directly through the front door; however, if the player fails to rescue the hostage, the character is redirected to an underground route through the sewers. If the player rescues all hostages, a secret room full of lives and bonuses is revealed toward the end of the game.

Players can score additional points by shooting enemies in the head and by rescuing hostages.[4]


The renowned biochemist and geneticist Roy Curien becomes obsessed with discovering the nature of life and death. While supported by the DBR Corporation and its own team of scientists, Curien's behavior becomes more erratic and his experiments take a gruesome turn. The Curien Mansion in Europe, which serves as his home and laboratory, experiences an outbreak.

On December 18, 1998, AMS Agent Thomas Rogan receives a distress call from his fiancée Sophie Richards from the Curien Mansion. Rogan and his partner "G" fly to Europe and arrive at the estate, finding it overrun with undead creatures, which Curien unleashed. A mortally wounded man gives them a journal containing information about Curien's creations and their weaknesses. Rogan and "G" reach Sophie, only to witness her being carried away by a gargoyle-like creature called the Hangedman. They later find Sophie, before she is attacked by the Chariot, a heavily armored mutant armed with a bardiche. After killing the mutant, Rogan and "G" attend to Sophie, who tells them they must stop Curien or else "something terrible will happen," before passing out. A furious Rogan goes after the Hangedman to the rooftops surrounding the courtyard. After a lengthy battle, Rogan and "G" shoot it down. The two later encounter an armored, spider-like creature called The Hermit, whom they also kill to proceed.

Arriving at the mansion's laboratory, Curien unleashes his masterpiece, The Magician, a humanoid creature with pyrokinetic abilities. However, the Magician refuses to serve any master and mortally wounds his creator. Curien expresses his confusion regarding his creation's loyalty before succumbing to his injuries. Rogan and "G" battle the Magician until it explodes, then leave the mansion.


There are three different endings, with which one player sees determined by their score rank. In what the developers called the "normal ending", Sophie is reanimated and becomes a zombie. What the developers have referred to as the "true ending" is only seen if the players get the highest rank: Sophie is alive, having survived her injuries.[4] In the third ending, a far view of the mansion is shown and Sophie is absent (leaving it unknown if she survived or not).


Development started in December 1995 and took one year and three months.[4] None of the development team could speak English, so they arrived at the name The House of the Dead by taking various horror-themed phrases in Japanese and picking the one where the English translated text had the most "cool" visual, without concern for what sort of connotations the phrase might have to English speakers.[4] The team saw people in their 20s and 30s as their target audience, and hoped that the game would primarily be experienced as a two-player game.[4]

House of the Dead was built on the Virtua Cop game engine.[3] The developers wanted to have a more complex system of path branches, and to have the system impact the game's story, but eventually realized these ideas were too ambitious to fulfill within the time allotted to make the game.[4]

The enemy designs were drafted quickly, going from idea directly to design drawing without any rough sketches.[4] Anticipating that foreign markets, particularly Germany, would require the violence be toned down, they built in an option for operators to change the color of the game's blood, with green, purple, and blue available in addition to the traditional red.[4] They also cut a female zombie from the game because they felt she looked too much like a normal elderly woman, which could provoke controversy given that the player is encouraged to shoot the zombies.[4] The Chariot was animated by using motion capture with an actor wielding a broom, but the other enemies were all animated manually, using motion capture for reference only.[4]

Sega AM4 designed the game's cabinet using screenshots and illustrations given to them by AM1.[4]


In late 1997 Sega confirmed that work had begun on a port to Sega Saturn, as an early version had been delivered to them.[5] The port was handled by Tantalus Interactive and released in 1998, with a port to Windows (PC-CD) by Sega arriving the same year.[6] Extra game modes were added to both ports, which include selectable characters and a boss rush mode.

Both the Sega Saturn and PC editions have slightly remixed soundtracks. On Chapter 2, there is a reference to the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster, as the words "Challenger, go at throttle up", spoken by Richard O. Covey from the mission control room only seconds before the explosion, can be heard three times before the music loops.[7] These words do not appear in the arcade version; a snickering laugh is heard instead. The title, and boss themes are reversed on the PC port as well.


The House of the Dead came in two cabinet formats, both upright: one with a 50-inch monitor and one with a 29-inch monitor.[8]


Review scores
AllGame4/5 stars[9]4/5 stars[10]
Game InformerN/A8/10[13]
PC Gamer (US)88%[16]N/A
PC Zone76%[17]N/A
Aggregate score

In Japan, Game Machine listed The House of the Dead on their May 1, 1997 issue as being the second most-successful dedicated arcade game of the year.[19]

The House of the Dead garnered generally positive reviews. Next Generation reviewed the arcade version of the game, rating it four stars out of five, and stated that "Overall, this is an excellent take on the light-gun genre - a sheer bloody scream." The review praised the branching levels, story, creature design, graphics, and destructible environments.[20] In a retrospective review, AllGame awarded it 4.5 out of 5 stars, likewise praising the story, graphics, and destructible environments, but particularly focused on the game's intelligent challenge. The reviewer dubbed it "one of the best shooting games to hit arcades in the late 1990s."[21]

The Saturn version held a 71% rating on review aggregation website GameRankings based on five reviews.[18]

When Indianapolis attempted to ban violent video games it argued that The House of the Dead was obscene and so unprotected by the First Amendment. This required U.S. Appeals Court Judge Richard Posner to review the game at length, ultimately finding Indianapolis’ ban was unconstitutional. Unimpressed by the graphics, Judge Posner wrote “The most violent game in the record, "The House of the Dead," depicts zombies being killed flamboyantly, with much severing of limbs and effusion of blood; but so stylized and patently fictitious is the cartoon-like depiction that no one would suppose it "obscene" in the sense in which a photograph of a person being decapitated might be described as "obscene." It will not turn anyone's stomach.”[22]

Cultural impact[edit]

According to Kim Newman in the book Nightmare Movies (2011), the "zombie revival began in the Far East" during the late 1990s with the Japanese zombie games Resident Evil and The House of the Dead. The success of these two 1996 zombie games inspired a wave of Asian zombie films, such as Bio Zombie (1998) and Versus (2000).[23] The zombie revival later went global following the worldwide success of Resident Evil and The House of the Dead, which inspired a wave of Western zombie films during the 2000s, such as 28 Days Later (2002) and Shaun of the Dead (2004).[23] In 2013, George Romero said it was the video games Resident Evil and House of the Dead "more than anything else" that popularised his zombie concept in early 21st-century popular culture.[24][25]

The House of the Dead has also been credited with introducing a new type of zombie distinct from Romero's classic slow zombie: the fast running zombie. After first appearing in The House of the Dead, they became popular in zombie films and video games during the 2000s, including the Resident Evil games and films, The House of the Dead film adaptation, and the films 28 Days Later (2002) and Dawn of the Dead (2004).[26]


  1. ^ "News Briefs". IGN. September 3, 1998. Archived from the original on April 12, 2000. Retrieved December 6, 2019.
    "Sega has released The House of the Dead, a first-person shooter."
  2. ^ "AOU". Electronic Gaming Monthly. No. 93. Ziff Davis. April 1997. p. 79.
  3. ^ a b "NG Alphas: House of the Dead". Next Generation. No. 29. Imagine Media. May 1997. p. 108.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Harrod, Warren (September 1997). "Interview: The House of the Dead". Sega Saturn Magazine. No. 23. Emap International Limited. pp. 58–63. Retrieved November 4, 2019.
  5. ^ "News in Brief". Sega Saturn Magazine. No. 25. Emap International Limited. November 1997. p. 15. Retrieved December 3, 2019.
  6. ^
  7. ^ Tetsuya Kawauchi (October 29, 2011). "The House Of The Dead Music: Chapter 2". Sega Saturn.
  8. ^ Webb, Marcus (June 1997). "Sega and GameWorks". Next Generation. No. 30. Imagine Media. p. 28.
  9. ^ House, Matthew. "The House of the Dead (PC) - Review". AllGame. Archived from the original on 2014-11-13. Retrieved 2016-09-28.
  10. ^ House, Michael L. "The House of the Dead (SAT) - Review". AllGame. Archived from the original on 2014-11-13. Retrieved 2016-09-28.
  11. ^ Randell, Kim (1998). "PC Review: House of the Dead". Computer and Video Games. Archived from the original on 2007-06-24. Retrieved 2014-02-16.
  12. ^ Edge staff (April 1998). "House of the Dead (SAT)". Edge (57).
  13. ^ "The House of the Dead (SAT)". Game Informer (61). May 1998.
  14. ^ Ferris, Duke (September 1998). "The House of the Dead Review (SAT)". Game Revolution. Retrieved 2014-02-16.
  15. ^ Fielder, Joe (1998-04-23). "The House of the Dead Review (SAT)". GameSpot. Retrieved 2014-02-16.
  16. ^ Williamson, Colin (December 1998). "House of the Dead". PC Gamer. Archived from the original on 2000-03-03. Retrieved 2014-03-26.
  17. ^ "PC Review: The House of the Dead". PC Zone. 1998.
  18. ^ a b "The House of the Dead for Saturn". GameRankings. Archived from the original on May 18, 2019. Retrieved 2014-02-16.
  19. ^ "Game Machine's Best Hit Games 25 - 完成品夕イプのTVゲーム機 (Dedicated Videos)". Game Machine (in Japanese). No. 540. Amusement Press, Inc. 1 May 1997. p. 21.
  20. ^ "Dead Men Walking". Next Generation. No. 34. Imagine Media. October 1997. p. 183.
  21. ^ Baize, Anthony. "The House of the Dead (ARC) - Review". AllGame. Archived from the original on 2014-11-13. Retrieved 2016-09-28.
  22. ^ American Amusement Machine Ass'n v. Kendrick, 244 F.3d 572 (7th Cir. 2001).
  23. ^ a b Newman, Kim (2011). Nightmare Movies: Horror on Screen Since the 1960s. A&C Black. pp. 559–566. ISBN 9781408805039.
  24. ^ Weedon, Paul (17 July 2017). "George A. Romero (interview)". Paul Weedon. Retrieved 2 June 2019.
  25. ^ Diver, Mike (17 July 2017). "Gaming's Greatest, Romero-Worthy Zombies". Vice. Retrieved 2 June 2019.
  26. ^ Levin, Josh (2007-12-19). "How did movie zombies get so fast?". Retrieved 2013-11-05.

Further reading[edit]

  • "The House of the Dead". EGM2. June 1997.

External links[edit]