Need more motivation for your next run? How about a pack of snarling zombies snapping at your heels?
You start up the app, plug in your headphones and go for a run. As you begin to sprint, jog or walk to your destination of choice, you’ll hear the narrated story of a zombie-infested, dystopian future. You’re a “runner” in this world, which means that your job is to go out and collect supplies like ammo, medicine and batteries for your ragtag base of human survivors. The more you run, the more stuff you’ll acquire.
“We want to tap into a fantasy that we think a lot of people have when they’re running or deciding to get fit — that you can be the hero of your own action movie,” said the game’s designer Adrian Hon in an e-mail.
“After all, why does anyone want to run? Probably so we know that if things get bad, we can rely on our bodies to get us out of trouble.”
The idea first came from a class for amateur runners, which Zombies, Run! writer Naomi Alderman had joined. During an introductory session, one of the organizers asked the group why they wanted to run.
“To outrun the zombie horde,” said one of the participants. Everybody laughed — except for Alderman. Her mind was busy running races of its own.
Hon says you’ll be able to make meaningful decisions as you progress through Zombies, Run. For example, once you’ve finished a running session, you’ll be able to allocate resources to different areas of your city, choosing which people to help out. He hints that your decisions could result in life-or-death consequences for some of the game’s survivors.
“It’s really important to us that this isn’t just gamification,” Hon said. “We haven’t just put experience points and levels and nonsense badges onto running — that stuff feels really shallow really quickly. It’s probably more like a role-playing game than anything else.”
This is a lofty claim, but the team seems passionate about making Zombies, Run! more complex than the average augmented-reality game. Your home base will grow and shrink based on the decisions you make between each running mission, and Hon says you’ll be able to unlock additional content as it expands.
Like any good RPG, Zombies, Run! will live or die by its story, penned by Alderman. Inspired by post-apocalyptic stories like Battlestar Galactica and The Road, the story is set in a world where “zombies are an accepted feature of life” and human survivors are desperately trying to rebuild civilization.
As protagonist “Runner 5,” you can help reconstruct the world, one battery at a time.
“There’ll definitely be a deeper mystery to uncover — after all, where did those zombies come from in the first place? — and plenty of intrigue and double-dealing between the self-interested people in your base,” Alderman said in an e-mail.
“Like the hero of any video game, Runner 5 is going to survive, but perhaps not everyone else will,” she said.
Designer Hon and writer Alderman have been working together for the past seven years, including on the popular alternate-reality card game Perplex City.
“We’d been thinking for a long time that we wanted to find another cool project to create together,” Hon said. “It’s not easy to find writers who understand game design, or game designers who understand the importance of good writing.”
Fans have flocked to Zombies, Run!, which has garnered over $53,000 on crowd-funding site Kickstarter in the past month. Hon and Alderman say they’re psyched about the positive reaction, noting that the game already has a “guaranteed audience.”
“Kickstarter lets us create the game we really want to make, rather than one that publishers… would prefer,” Hon said.
“Plus, our evidence suggests that the zombie apocalypse can’t be more than a few years away now,” he added. “It’s time to get in training.”