Need motivation to exercise? Zombies Run! prepares to hit the streets again
Video games have long been blamed for turning gamers into zombies, but some developers are turning this idea on its head with great gaming experiences that don’t chain players to the sofa, and that encourage good health habits as well
While there is no shortage of exercise apps out there, one game keeps managing to stay ahead of the pack, turning exercise into adventure. Zombies, Run! is a running app that convinces you that a hoard of zombies are chasing you on your run and encourages you to keep moving to stay alive. It’s gearing up to launch the fourth instalment of its best-selling running game and plans to keep us firmly immersed in its world. You play as Runner 5, an unnamed (and silent) runner for Abel, an isolated township and one of the few Zombie-free outposts. As a runner, your job is to go on missions outside the safety of the township’s walls and find supplies while avoiding and outrunning zombie attacks.
This may sound like your typical zombie game, but unusually Zombies, Run! is played almost entirely in your head. In reality you are listening to the game on headphones as you follow your local running route, using it as an alternative to your traditional music playlist. Through a series of radio broadcasts and recordings, you become part of this zombie-infested world and the characters and dramas of the Abel township.
First launched by SixToStart in 2012, Zombies, Run! is now entering its fourth series, and shows no signs of slowing down. Adrian Hon, co-founder of the company thinks the game’s simplicity is one its key strengths. “Conceptually I think Zombies Run is quite a simple game, it’s quite a simple experience because you don’t want to overdo things,” he says.
“You can imagine a Zombies, Run! where you have to run to a location and that’s what you see on screen, but because it’s a running game you’re kind of constrained. It’s not a good idea to give people directions because you’re probably going to direct them into traffic! And it’s not a good idea to have people looking at their screen because you don’t want to be pulling out your phone every five minutes.”
Taking the form of a radio play, it is the game’s writing which has ensured its popularity with fans. Another creator of the game is writer and novelist Naomi Alderman, who came up with the idea while at a running class. Sharing what had inspired them to learn to run, a class member joked that she wanted to outrun the zombie hoards. After years of making games for other companies, this became SixToStart’s first independent project.
“For the first few years we were making games for other people. We learned a huge amount about how to do a project, and how to get things done, and how to market things,” Hon says, “but I think that, like a lot of people, we wanted to make something that was our own.”
“We thought this could be a really good idea; this could be a lot of fun. We started it with Kickstarter, the crowd funding site, and people loved it, and we’ve never looked back.”
Writing was always at the heart of the game’s experience, and Hon credits his small team for keeping the games original vision. “With other games, they make the game and then they go get a writer and say, ‘can you try and make this make sense?’” he says. “We had the writers and designers and developers all in the same room, which made it easier because there were only four or five of us, it’s the advantage of having a small, focused team”
“Regardless of whether we had a big game or a small game, it’s a kind of clarity of vision that matters and it’s probably hard to do that with big games that are trying something new. If you’re trying to make Uncharted 5 or whatever, you go ‘oh we’re going to do what we did before but in a different place’ and I don’t think people would understand if they did something very different than that. It’s very hard to do that with a big game.”
This small game is planning to get a bit bigger however as Series 4 hits the app store shelves in April. The new series will bring the number of running missions up to 200, increasing the worry that slower runners will be left behind in the story.
“It is tricky, like I just binge-watched this thing on Amazon Prime and watched about ten episodes in two days, and you obviously can’t run ten missions in two days.” Hon says. “It’s harder to have everyone in the same place but at the same time I think that it means that people have a more intimate experience when they’re playing the game. We have these season breaks that give people time to catch up but people do progress at different rates. We’re thinking of ways to, not necessarily speed things up, but so that we don’t see a drop off by the wayside.”
The makers are keeping tight-lipped about what the new series will bring. “We’re planning some big changes this year,” he promises, “I mean we say that every year…”
“It’s just crazy that it’s come this far. People really love the story and love the characters, they love the world and if that’s the case we want to keep making it. It’s fine for something to just be entertainment but Zombies, Run! is more unusual because it makes people healthier as well. That’s a really nice feeling; it’s a great privilege to imagine that we have that kind of impact on people.”
The first three series of Zombies, Run! are available on both iOS and Android from €3.99.