Zombies, Run!

“I got an email from Korenchkin this morning saying he was coming up for an inspection. And when he arrived it was... something... revolting... it was Anatoly... but it wasn't... at the same time it seemed beautiful... and I felt like part of it... He sang to us... all of us... and we felt like one of Many...”
System Shock Audio Log

It’s not often someone comes up with a new way of telling a story. Most of the time, it’s just a subtle twist on an old standby. Games have been the place where we’ve seen the most ingenuity. The first time I encountered the audio logs of System Shock, for example, I knew that something interesting was going to happen. Not only was I in my own story as I journeyed through the Citadel, I was experiencing the stories of the cast and (spoilers) mutated crew as I went through the now-signature Looking Glass Audiolog Storytelling System ™.

Last week, a relatively unknown writer named Naomi Alderman (former writer on the Perlex City ARG), together with developer Six to Start, quietly did something that, while perhaps not as original as System Shock, pushes stories in a new direaction.

She released a little game called Zombies, Run.

The elevator pitch is simple: It’s a GPS-based run-tracker for your iOS device that, instead of just saying “You’ve just run 1 mile,” tells you a story. The functionality is really no different than any of a dozen running applications available for various mobile devices. But what it does with that functionality is.

“[Klaxon sounds] Runners, this is an emergency. The gates are stuck in the open position. We are open to all attacks. The following runners are to report to the main gates immediately, for deter and distract: Runner 2, Runner 3, Runner 5, Runner 8. Go Go Go!”

When you first start Zombies, Run, you simply start running. As you start running, people talk to you – the citizens and radio operator of Able Township, a community of some 60 people beset by the zombie apocalypse. It’s done in a similar fashion to the one-directional communications of countless videogames that eschew cutscenes, like, for instance, BioShock. Instead of Atlas taunting us, however, we get exhortations from our radio operator to run faster, harder, away from the zombies, towards supplies.

Importantly, it’s not just an audiobook. The snippets of story and dialog come interspersed with music from your own playlist – which can be anything from hair metal to back episodes of My Brother My Brother And Me. In between tracks, or occasionally interrupting your tracks, you’ll get tiny little bursts of content.

There are some “game” elements to the experience. The more you run, the more supplies you’ll pick up, and your headphones will chime with the occasional “Picked up a medkit” or “found a tin of food” update. These supplies can then be used to upgrade Abel Township, and unlock more missions.

But the most interesting part of the whole experiment is that it creates a form of immersion extremely rare in storytelling. The story being told (so far, after about 6 missions), is the story of a runner – Runner 5 (a hat-tip to Logan’s Run), but it’s also my story. It’s a story I’m enabling by running through the physical world, in effect earning the story with my own sweat.

Is this “gamification” rearing its head in my daily run? Not really. I'm not chasing points with a pedometer. And I’m entirely uninterested in the “game” part of Zombies, Run. I’m interested in the surprisingly well written zombie/mystery story that’s unfolding under my sneakers. The flaw of most fitness games is that they’re actually pretty uninteresting. Earning imaginary trophies or climbing imaginary mountains is, at the end of the day, not all that much more interesting than just listening to music. But Alderman and her crew of voice actors and sound-effects editors have made something that’s not only interesting, but compelling enough to make me want to get out tomorrow, rain or shine, just to see what happens next. Will the Doctor find something useful in the CDC files? Will Runner 8 finally learn to trust me? And what are the folks in that nearby township really up to?

It’s hardly perfect. With just 13 missions at about half an hour each, a good week or two of running will exhaust the storyline, and at $8, that’s pretty expensive as iOS experiences go. Replayability is questionable, since it’s fundamentally the story that’s interesting.

But as long as Alderman has stories to tell, I’ll keep listening. And running.

Comments

The concept doesn't make sense to me. Running provides me with a rare opportunity to tune out all the chatter. Having somebody bark at me about zombies flies in the face of that.

And I can't believe how much press this thing is getting.

This makes me wish I liked running.

I think it comes down to the fact that different people run for different reasons. I'm sure that there are plenty of people out there who want to be entertained while they run, as well as those that want to use the story as motivation to to run longer or to get in shape. Sure, its probably not for everybody, but it sounds like its doing some cool things.

Dominic Knight wrote:

This makes me wish I liked running.

+1. Can the sequel be "Zombies, do a P90X workout!" please?

As soon as they come out with an Android version of this (stupid ios bias *grumble*), I'll be all over it. I think they're saying April, which will be just about the time I'm planning on re-integrating running into my workout routine.

The appeal for me is that it adds some variety to my run without fundamentally changing it. It also gives you a reason to go out on your next run, which is incredibly helpful when someone's just starting to get into a fitness routine.

Alien13z wrote:

The concept doesn't make sense to me. Running provides me with a rare opportunity to tune out all the chatter. Having somebody bark at me about zombies flies in the face of that.

And I can't believe how much press this thing is getting.

So, if it was people "barking at you about zombies" it would suck. I take it you don't listen to podcasts, news, or audiobooks either when you run?

The reason this works is because there's a really excellent, well acted, well produced radio-play style drama unfolding in 20-60 second sound clips with good pacing, where the action all happens to happen to a protagonist who's running, told in the second person.

I can't give a ton of detail, as it's pretty much stuff I don't want to spoil from the 30th second of the first mission.

This idea is one that is pushing me to looking into getting an iphone with my upgrade...It sounds like the motivation I need to do more outdoor running!

Oh, look, another zombie-themed entertainment product. *yawn*

I am intrigued by the story aspect, though I am more interested in the leveling/questing aspect. Going on longer runs to get elite gear.

Things I'd love to see in this genre:
Going on faster runs to escape from a horde of zombies and get to a safehouse.
Being able to tag locations as safe houses.
It's completely impractical, but I'd love to see some way (safe way) to have it assign routes that you choose from. Do I go save the family stranded in XYZ location (and I have to get there before Time X) or do I go secure a medical cache?

Holla wrote:

This idea is one that is pushing me to looking into getting an iphone with my upgrade...It sounds like the motivation I need to do more outdoor running!

This is pushing me to an iPhone and potentially to start running.

I need more ways to not get bored or feel antsy about things I could be doing while running.

My moneys, shut up and take them.

Hedge,

Right there with you. I'd love to see this more clearly tied to distance. Imagine a novel being played out as a marathon training program over the course of 16 weeks. I see this as really a proof of concept of a storytelling idea, more than the end result.

I've been listening to this during my nightly run with the dog, and I think it's surprisingly well done. The dialog bits are injected between songs in my play list, and recently I've been taking longer routes just so I could listen to more chatter. It really doesn't have the be zombies, either. The format is such that any number of stories could be used to similar effect--spy missions, whatever.

One thing rabbit didn't mention (and that I'll admit to not having tried yet) is that you can enable "zombie chases" for interval training. Basically, periodically during your run a horde of zombies will approach and you'll be encouraged to outrun them. Obviously more for the recreational runner, but people who want serious interval training probably won't be carrying an iPhone anyway.

rabbit wrote:

I'd love to see this more clearly tied to distance. Imagine a novel being played out as a marathon training program over the course of 16 weeks. I see this as really a proof of concept of a storytelling idea, more than the end result.

Absolutely.

complexmath wrote:

I've been listening to this during my nightly run with the dog, and I think it's surprisingly well done. The dialog bits are injected between songs in my play list, and recently I've been taking longer routes just so I could listen to more chatter. It really doesn't have the be zombies, either. The format is such that any number of stories could be used to similar effect--spy missions, whatever.

One thing rabbit didn't mention (and that I'll admit to not having tried yet) is that you can enable "zombie chases" for interval training. Basically, periodically during your run a horde of zombies will approach and you'll be encouraged to outrun them. Obviously more for the recreational runner, but people who want serious interval training probably won't be carrying an iPhone anyway.

rabbit wrote:

I'd love to see this more clearly tied to distance. Imagine a novel being played out as a marathon training program over the course of 16 weeks. I see this as really a proof of concept of a storytelling idea, more than the end result.

Absolutely.

I had it in my first draft, but 7 missions in now, I have YET to actually get a zombie chase, so I didn't want to report it if I hadn't had it yet. I've had radio guys tell me zoms were on my tail, but I don't think that's the same thing (although maybe it is, and I just misinterpreted).

rabbit wrote:

I had it in my first draft, but 7 missions in now, I have YET to actually get a zombie chase, so I didn't want to report it if I hadn't had it yet. I've had radio guys tell me zoms were on my tail, but I don't think that's the same thing (although maybe it is, and I just misinterpreted).

You actually enabled "Zombie Chases" in the Settings menu (it's off by default) and it doesn't work? My impression was that they'd randomly fade in a "zombies on your tail" announcement from HQ and then cue some zombie sounds... then sometime later HQ would say you've lost them. I think you're supposed to increase your speed as well, though I don't know if there's a penalty for not doing so. A bit of googling found this:

"When you're out running, you'll occasionally get chased by zombies and you'll need to speed up in response over the next minute," said the app's co-creator Adrian Hon.

This sounds great! I always say I'm not going running unless something is chasing me. This might be the right opportunity...

Thanks for the review rabbit!

By the by: the Android version is coming sometime in early summer (next couple of months) IIRC.

To tie this into recent discussion, it appears that Zombies, Run! was funded by kickstarter. There, they do mention the Android release and some other stuff.

HedgeWizard wrote:

By the by: the Android version is coming sometime in early summer (next couple of months) IIRC.

Huzzah! Now I just need to remember to actually check around then. This sounds like the sort of thing that might get me motivated to actually exercise. My main problem with exercise usually is the time I waste running could be valuably spent consuming media... this solves that problem!

I kind of wish it wasn't GPS-based, though I can see why it is. I do most of my running on a treadmill / elliptical, not running distances, which I'm guessing pretty much means I can't get anything out of this.

There have already been a few requests for a time-based mode. I imagine it will be added at some point.

Ravenlock wrote:

I kind of wish it wasn't GPS-based, though I can see why it is. I do most of my running on a treadmill / elliptical, not running distances, which I'm guessing pretty much means I can't get anything out of this.

Nope. It says that it's treadmill friendly on their site.

I've been using this for a bit now, wrote about it over in the Fitocracy thread.
I love it. One correction though Rabbit. You mention 13 missions for $8. They are actually working on 17 more missions for Season 1 which you get for free with the initial purchase. They way they word it I assume they'll sell more missions in future Seasons, but we'll have to see.

rabbit wrote:

I had it in my first draft, but 7 missions in now, I have YET to actually get a zombie chase, so I didn't want to report it if I hadn't had it yet. I've had radio guys tell me zoms were on my tail, but I don't think that's the same thing (although maybe it is, and I just misinterpreted).

I got two zombie chases in my first run. The radio guy tells you the zombies are on your tail, and to pick it up. Then you start hearing a beeping, which beeps faster to indicate how close they are. You also get a periodic announcement of how close they are (Zombies, 15 yards. Zombies, 20 yards.) It's the same announcer that tells you when you pick supplies up, so it's not as clear as the actual radio announcers. At the end the announcer either tells you you've evaded the zombies.... or not.

HedgeWizard wrote:
Ravenlock wrote:

I kind of wish it wasn't GPS-based, though I can see why it is. I do most of my running on a treadmill / elliptical, not running distances, which I'm guessing pretty much means I can't get anything out of this.

Nope. It says that it's treadmill friendly on their site.

Yeah, there is an accelerometer built in which is used for treadmills, ellipticals, etc. I haven't tried it out yet, but it's there.

Yeah, there is an accelerometer built in which is used for treadmills, ellipticals, etc. I haven't tried it out yet, but it's there.

For treadmill/ iPod Touch folk there is accelerometer, but you don't get zombie chases and the pedometer is basically broken (only measures about 1 in 3 of my steps) so is essentially useless.

You still get the story and can still collect supplies as you run.

I think the story is pretty good. I'm 4 episodes in now, and quite enjoying it. It's definitely giving me an incentive to get out there and run!

The game also has a base-building game, where you assign the supplies that you collect during your run to buildings within Abel township. This aspect of the game is VERY basic, and I think needs to be fleshed out much more before it gets even slightly interesting.

The thing is, the idea of the running element of the game providing supplies that can be used within a fully formed base building/ survival game is pure genius, so I hope they develop this idea further.

So currently, iPod touch/ treadmill users are getting an audiobook interspersed with music from their own music collection. In the future it could be a whole lot more...

I'm really looking forward to this finally coming out on Android so I can give it a shot. Hopefully by then some of the features that have been mentioned will be a bit more fleshed out as well. The zombie chases sound interesting and a good way to get just a bit more out of the workout.

This was also on Kickstarter. Good things coming from there for sure! And I am in the camp that running can be boring like hell. So I am all for this!

I'm interested in this, but given that I rock the red-headed stepchild of the mobile platforms (Windows phone), there's none for me.

However, for further running and zombie fun, I spent a significant portion of last year listening to We're Alive - A Story of Survival while cranking out the miles. Surprisingly good stuff.

badgerpendous wrote:

I have been getting closer and closer to finally purchasing a "real"/"smart" phone device. I've had my old motorola phone (i560) for many years.

And in a happy coincidence, I've become addicted to Fitocracy and have take up running again.

So it's a perfect storm -- of opportunity.

BUT I have a question for you all.

What device should I get? I don't want and iPhone, so it will have to be android. And Sprint-friendly.

Ideas/suggestions?

Might I suggest the Samsung Galaxy S II? A DAMN fine phone if you ask me. And, it's sprint friendly!

I have been getting closer and closer to finally purchasing a "real"/"smart" phone device. I've had my old Motorola phone (i560) for many years.

And in a happy coincidence, I've become addicted to Fitocracy and have taken up running again.

So it's a perfect storm -- of opportunity.

BUT I have a question for you all.

What device should I get? I don't want an iPhone, so it will have to be android. And Sprint-friendly.

Ideas/suggestions?

[edit typo fix]

http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology...

For those who want to find out a bit more about the app...