Interview ~ Meet Naomi Alderman and Adrian Hon, the masterminds behind ZOMBIES, RUN!

Instead of boring you with my continued lack of exergaming progress, zombies, GIT is bringing you a post 420% more awesome than any other post.

Today’s post combines two of the three things GIT is about; zombies + exergaming = ZOMBIES, RUN!, a zombierific “running game and audio adventure for the iPhone and Android.”  Sadly, this game is not yet ready for action, but it will be soon with the help of Kickstarter and backers.

Before I proceed, I’d like to thank CEO of Six to Start, Adrian Hon and lead writer for ZOMBIES, RUN!, Naomi Alderman, for taking the time for this interview.  While the trailer and website already had me lacing up my running shoes with Android in hand, Adrian and Naomi’s responses make the fact that this game is not yet available that much harder to cope with, but all the more enticing.

Before we turn the attention to ZOMBIES, RUN!, why not tell us a little about yourselves, your past creative experiences, and what inspires you creatively.  Are either of you zombie fans?

Adrian ~ I’m a keen Left 4 Dead player and I also spent over a year becoming one of the most powerful characters in the Urban Dead zombie MMO.  Like everyone else, I enjoyed reading World War Z and I recently finished Mira Grant’s excellent ‘Deadline’, but the one thing I haven’t done is watch many zombie movies or TV shows – simply because I get a bit spooked by the shock-factor sometimes!

Naomi ~ You know, weirdly I’m not a massive zombie fan per se – I’m more of a post-apocalypse fan. I love stories that start with “so, almost everyone in the world is dead, what now?” – there’s a book from my childhood, Empty World by John Christopher, which really started me thinking about it along with John Wyndham classics like The Day of the Triffids and The Chrysalids. And I probably read Defoe’s A Journal of the Plague Year a little bit too early – there’s a book that will really bring home to you what it means when “the living did not suffice to bury the dead”. I think weirdly it’s a sort of urban fantasy – we live our lives surrounded by shuffling crowds of anonymous strangers in cities. So first there’s a revenge fantasy – make them brainless, kill them before they kill you – and there’s also an escape fantasy – all that lovely emptiness when they’re gone.

Fusing the concepts of surviving the zombie apocalypse with running fits together like a hand in a glove, yet no other game developers seem to have put two and two together.  What inspired the creation of ZOMBIES, RUN!?  Why do you think you were the first group to marry the zombie theme with running in a video game?

To be fair, that’s not entirely true.  There are at least a few zombie/running games and live events out there – not just on mobiles, but online and in the real world.  So we think it’s a trope that, like you say, really fits like a hand in a glove.

We’re different in two big ways though. The first is that our game is really, really easy to play when you’re out running. No mucking about with buttons or looking at screens, you can just get out there and run and enjoy the story. But the second way – and this sounds a bit contradictory, but it makes sense – is that we have a *lot* more depth. The story we’ll be telling will be a real one with an epic sweep, not just ‘zombies are here, run away!’ – and the base management will require real skill.

The announcement for ZOMBIES, RUN! was posted on Kickstarter on Friday, September 9th with a goal of raising $12,500 to fund the making of the game.  As of Wednesday, September 20th over 2,100 backers pledged over $45,000.  What kinds of thoughts are running (pun intended!) through your heads as you see a legion of fans showing up to support you?  How does this impact your perception of the future of ZOMBIES, RUN! and Six to Start?

Good question! We had confidence that the game idea was good and that we’d expressed it well, so we thought we had a solid chance at exceeding our target. But when we started appearing on Wired and BoingBoing and the rest, it really became apparent that this wasn’t just a neat idea, it was something that thousands of people wanted so badly that they were willing to pay for it in advance.

What this means is that providing we don’t screw up the game, we can be pretty confident that the game will sell well when we launch it – and that’s something that any iPhone or game developer would “kill” to have.  Obviously that means we can be happier about spending more time and resources on development and start looking ahead to future versions.

The user’s character, Runner 5, will “automatically collect items like medicine, batteries, and ammo while running, and once you’re back home, you get to assign them to different parts of your base.”  In your description of the game, you elude to the fact that there’s a deeper truth to uncover through solving puzzles, reading documents, and finding hidden websites.  Does the story vary depending on who you divvy the supplies to on your base?

Naomi ~ Although the order that you see bits of the story in might vary, certainly for the first season at least the story as a whole isn’t going to vary very much. The more variation you create in a game narrative the more – in effect – wasted content you have to create because no player will see all parts of the story. I want to devote story resources to telling the best story we can – particularly now in Season 1 when we’re establishing the world – and that means introducing a lot of redundancy isn’t the best way forward.

However! I definitely want to find clever ways to add in a couple of meaningful choices for the player at some point in the future, choices that the game will remember even if it doesn’t affect the story arc right now. The cool thing about all the interest and excitement around the game is that we might actually get to make seasons 2 through X, so it’s possible that tiny choices you make could end up having a long-term effect on the story. Plus it’d be nice to include an Easter egg if you allot some really random supply to an unexpected place…

An obvious factor is the game will be designed to function around the user actually running. How will the game tell the difference between the user walking versus running?  Will the user be required to run “X” mph/kph in order to activate the story or will they be able to run at the pace they want?  At more intense moments in story, will the user be encouraged to speed up their pace, similar to interval training?

We can measure the player’s speed in a number of ways – through GPS, of course, but we can also approximate it using the device’s accelerometer. Generally speaking, we want the game to work well at whatever speed you run at. The fact is that everyone has their own pace and goals, and we need to cater for them. However, it’s crystal clear that a lot of people *do* want to be chased by zombies, and we will have that option for them – but they should know, it could be very tiring!

With almost all exercise, it’s encouraged that you to warm up pre-workout and cool down post-workout.  Will there be any form of warm up and cool down built into the game?

Interesting you ask that – both of those things are very easy for us to include and actually integrate very well with the story and setting. Still, we can’t guarantee that they’ll make it into the launch version. What we’d definitely say is: don’t use this game as your only source of information or guidance for your workouts! Like a SatNav, we hope it’ll be an amazing tool and we also think it’ll be a really fun game, but also like a SatNav, don’t just follow us blindly and drive into a lake! That is, if you need 10 minutes warm up and 10 minutes cool down, and we haven’t built that in yet, or we haven’t built in enough time, listen to your body and not just to the game.

Do you intend on making the game single player or will there be leader boards?  If you decide to have leader boards, have you taken into consideration making separate boards for the iPhone and Android due to the three month gap in their expected release dates?

Adrian ~ The game is going to be single player at launch, although we are absolutely planning to have team and multiplayer features in the future. We don’t want to have the usual leaderboards of ‘distance travelling’ and ‘time spent running’ though, because we don’t think they’re appropriate – I run a lot more than my girlfriend, and I think it wouldn’t be fun for her to be always below me in rankings – and likewise there are people who are and always will be better at running than me. We’ll come up with something better!

Adrian, what existing games and technologies are you basing the game structure off of?

Along with the standard fitness utilities like RunKeeper and Nike+ along with the older Garmin devices, I’m very interested in games like Animal Crossing, REBUILD (a Flash game), and Urban Dead. As for technologies, we’re using the standard set that are in most modern smartphone – for now, we’re not going to be blazing any trails, we’re just focused on creating a really fun and accessible experience.

Naomi, what games, books, and movies are you basing the story structure off of?

You know it’s interesting; when I talk about the story and now that I’m starting to write it, it’s not a typical zombie narrative really. We don’t start in “the ordinary world”, we don’t hear rumours of contagion, we don’t have to decide how to defend our home. Those parts of the zombie narrative don’t really contain enough running! You’re better off holing up somewhere secure with a mass of canned food and shotguns. So to fit with the goal of getting the players running, the story starts after the apocalypse has already happened, when running – to get supplies, to outrun zombies – is all-important.

So, I’m very inspired by The Road, Battlestar Galactica, the BBC series Survivors (except with far more dirt and desperation. Dirt and desperation are very important for a post-apocalyptic world.) Old West narratives are pretty inspirational too of course – that idea of what you can build using just your hands and what you find in a hostile environment – as are real-life stories of survival. I can highly recommend the book “Deep Survival”, which has a lot of horrifying stories and amazing insights into what traits will help you actually make it through.

Pop culture personnel, writers, bloggers, and fans alike are starting to say the the zombie theme is so overdone, it’s quickly losing it’s allure.  What aspects of the zombie theme do you intend on staying true to?  What in the ZOMBIES, RUN! plot is going to differentiate it from what’s been done before?

Adrian ~ About a month before we came up with the idea of the game, I was reading a games magazine at work and came across a news story about a zombie game. I distinctly remember exclaiming, “Not another zombie game! When will people use their imagination and think of something original!?”

So, I’m very much sympathetic to the idea that zombies are overdone. However, there’s a reason why they’re popular – everyone knows how zombies ‘work’ and they provide a clear contrast to our present situation where the world seems uncertain and we don’t know what to do in response to all the newspaper stories about the environment and economy, in that if there was a real zombie apocalypse, you’d just need to get the shotgun out.

There aren’t many games that provide such an intimate story, yet will also last for weeks or months. In fact, I’m not sure there are any at all. So we can do things that no-one else ever has before with this game!

Naomi ~ These things are always highly cyclical – I heard a brilliant thought the other day that vampires are popular at times of prosperity, whereas zombies become popular at moments of economic depression. I was going to make a joke here about how the world economic news is therefore looking good for us but I don’t think it’s really that funny….

Joking aside, I do think it’s good news for us that zombies have been so popular. That’s because the amount of story you can tell purely via audio in short bursts while people are running is quite limited in fact! So it’s great for us that when we produce the audio, our players will have their own visual from their favourite zombie movie or game running in their heads. We’re at the stage now where ‘zombie’ is shorthand and we can play with it, not having to explain the basics or include lengthy “look! over there! a shambling figure! with torn clothes!” descriptions.

I think longterm what will differentiate our story is that it’ll end up being a bit more hopeful. Just as you run, get fitter, build your own personal fitness ‘base’, so if you keep at this for long enough you’ll start to actually improve the story world you’re in. If the typical zombie narrative is about the rapid slide into destruction and decay, ours is more about the slow climb out.

If faced with the real zombie apocalypse, do you think users will have a greater odds of survival being that they “trained” with ZOMBIES, RUN!?

There’s no doubt whatsoever. Not only will they be able to run away more quickly, they’ll know what survival items to collect, and they’ll even be able to run their own base from which to rebuild civilization! When that day comes – and we all know it’ll come – the world will need people like Zombies, Run! players.

With Naomi and Adrian’s last comment floating in my head, I will definitely need ZOMBIES, RUN!

So zombies, head over to the ZOMBIES, RUN! Kickstarter page and make your contribution.  Don’t forget to check out the official ZOMBIES, RUN! site, Naomi Alderman’s page, and the Six to Start page.

February and May of 2012 can’t come any sooner.  Once I get my hands and running shoes on ZOMBIES, RUN! you can be sure I’ll be running each day and sharing my thoughts.  If we’re lucky enough, Adrian and Naomi may make a return to GIT.  Until then…

On we game!

About gamerinthought

To put it simply, I'm mother to the thoughts and ramblings found on Gamer In Thought, a child of Coleco Vision and NES, and the harbinger of all things awesome.

Posted on October 4, 2011, in Interviews, Zombies and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. That sounds really fun and awesome!

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