Branching paths are a gameplay mechanic in the main House of the Dead series and its spiritual successor, Vampire Night. The mechanic involves nonlinear level designs that are affected by player actions.
The main House of the Dead series and Vampire Night have a mostly nonlinear level design, with the player's decisions altering the paths taken throughout the game. Elements that change paths include:
- A civilian's survival or death.
- The destruction of objects in the environment (trapdoors, locks, statues, control panels, etc.).
- Manipulating elevator switches by shooting them (The House of the Dead only).
- Shooting a shining object, like a key (The House of the Dead 2 only).
- Failing certain "controller shake" sequences in The House of the Dead 4.
- The player's number of lives (House of the Dead: Scarlet Dawn only)
Upon game over (or game completion, in the case of House of the Dead: Scarlet Dawn), a map of all branching paths is shown. The routes taken are highlighted, with the player characters traversing the map; upon reaching the spot where the game ended, they fall over and die.
The exception to this is Vampire Night and The House of the Dead III, the latter of which uses circular icons to mark the player's position; they shed their color when they reach the spot where the player died.
The branching path mechanic was first used in Sega's 1996 rail shooting game The House of the Dead. It was created by developer Sega AM1 to enchance replay value, and to encourage players to discover their preferred routes.
Rough maps were designed to plan out the routes. Throughout The House of the Dead's development, the system evolved: it was originally more maze-like and could influence the story, but was simplified for time and system data reasons. Sega AM1 also intended for players to choose paths at the start of the game.