Zombies, Run!


Written by Tshepo Mokoena
Photos and illustrations by Steven Brahms, Wish.co.uk
24 Tuesday 24th April 2012

Spoiler alert: you're going to do a lot of running. Initially we heard about Wish's zombie shopping mall experience, where you can pay for an adventurous afternoon thwarting and escaping rampaging zombies in an abandoned shopping centre (or get it as a gift for a zombie obsessive). "There's got to be an app for that", we thought, and we were right: game development company Six To Start had crafted a little gem to turn fear and adrenaline into a much-less-boring-than-normal jogging experience. They Kickstarted their way to Zombies, Run!, a new interactive game that integrates jogging with a zombie quest. For more on escaping the brain-eaters IRL, we spoke to game designer and producer Matt Wieteska.

main image: The Evasion Studies by Steven Brahms

So Matt, how long had you and the Six to Start team been thinking of integrating zombie awesomeness with running before you launched your fundraising campaign?

The idea had been kicking around for about six months before we launched the Kickstarter campaign. The inspiration for the game came when [associate writer] Naomi joined a running group. The instructor asked all the attendees their reasons for running, and among all the usual responses, one person piped up with "to survive the coming zombie apocalypse". Naomi says hearing that set a lightbulb off in her head, and a few conversations with [company co-founder] Adrian later, Zombies, Run! was born.

Why zombies? Why not another kind of terrifying pursuer?

I think there are a few reasons for this, two quite simple and one a bit more abstract. The first simple reason is illustrated by the story of how the idea came about: the idea of a zombie apocalypse is pretty universal in modern pop culture, and everyone likes to think about their "zombie preparedness plan". It's such a resonant situation for so many people, and we thought we could really let people have fun with the idea.

The second reason's sort of boring and practical: most people know they couldn't outrun a T-Rex or a Werewolf or a homicidal murderer, but most people like to believe they could outrun a walking corpse. With the differing zombie speeds available to us (from Romero's shambling masses to Boyle's sprinting fiends), we can cater to runners of all capabilities without stretching the believability of our monster.

The third reason's tied into that second. The heroes in zombie films are always every-men and women, so it's very easy for the audience to project into a zombie narrative. Again, at heart, everyone knows they're not a ninja assassin or a special-ops action hero. But the main characters in zombie films could always be any one of us. That's what makes the zombie myth so powerful: it's incredibly easy to project yourself into.

What do you think it is about zombies that keeps people coming back, whether with movies, music videos, or real-life experiences?

I think zombies have proven to be one of the most flexible monsters in horror history, largely because they can stand in for so many external threats or societal worries. Whether they're part of a dialogue about race, as in the original Night of the Living Dead, commenting on consumerism's assault on the individual in Dawn of the Dead, or showing the horrors of biological experimentation, urban alienation and mob rule in 28 Days Later, they're always a relevant and terrifying threat. They're the Swiss army knife of movie monsters.

They also provide an incredible pressure-cooker environment within which to examine how people interact under great stress. Most great zombie stories actually don't have a lot of zombie encounters in them: the majority of the time is spent showing how the group of survivors bickers, fights, and cracks under pressure. Maybe zombies are such flexible monsters because they act as a great mirror: showing us at our worst (or, occasionally, best).

On top of that, most zombie films have that slim silver lining: the idea of rebuilding civilisation after it all passes. I think that, as much as we might hate to admit it to ourselves, we all have a secret belief that we'd do a better job of running the world if we were left in charge with a clean break from the "old ways". There's a kind of perverse pleasure in imagining how we might do things differently, how we might avoid making the same mistakes, how we might each be king or queen of our own little corner of the new world. Or maybe that's just me.

How did you decide on balancing the narrative/storytelling side of things with the aspect of fun and exercise?

Firstly, great storytelling is a huge part of what we all think makes great games. We try to make sure that, whatever we're doing, we're always telling a compelling story. So it was never really a question for us. The compelling thing about the idea was that we could put our players inside a great zombie story, give them that vivid, heart-racing experience.

The second part of it is that running is actually really boring. After a few runs, you get bored of the same power-ballads-and-dubstep-playlists, the same paths, and of running, basically. We thought that, if we could hook the player into a great story and make them want to stay out longer because they were really enjoying the experience, then we could fix that. Our players certainly seem to feel like we succeeded there.

Finally, what are your hopes for the game now?

Well, we have a lot of new ideas that we're working on implementing. The first two that I can talk about are a beginner's 5k add-on, and an interval training add-on. We feel like we've got the core of the experience down, but we want to cater for people who either haven't run before, or who want a more intense training programme. So those two add-ons will be coming out later this year, we hope. Beyond that, I can't really give too much away, but our main priorities are to make the app more useful to all our players, and to keep telling a great story. That's always our number one concern.

Click here to get the Zombies, Run! app for yourself and to read more on the game.

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