Four years ago, a little over three thousand people raised $72K on Kickstarter to make Six to Start’s Zombies, Run a post-apocalyptic reality. The smartphone app allowed runners to step into the role of Abel Township’s Runner 5, the largely silent protagonist collecting supplies for the town in a world infested with zombies. Three seasons and over 200 missions later, over a million people purchased the game, following its often heart-wrenching story as Runner 5 gradually gets to know the inhabitants of Abel Township, neighboring settlements, and the truth behind the zombie infestation. And now, with season 4, Zombies, Run has gone free-to-play.
One of the challenges that Zombies, Run faces is that while it’s an exceptionally intuitive game to pick up, it’s deceptively hard to describe to people who haven’t plugged in a pair of headphones and entered a new audio landscape. It’s easy to assume the game’s appeal is the thrill of the chase: the spike in adrenaline as the moans and groans of an undead horde interrupts an evening jog, and the dread realization that with every step, they’re getting closer. And while the zombie chases are a rush, it’s an optional feature in a game that focuses on a compelling narrative to convince its players to keep coming back out for more. It’s temptation bundling at work – a compelling narrative with fascinating characters you can only encounter while on the move. The ragtag band of survivors in Abel Township has inspired a vibrant fan community.
Zombies, Run‘s shift to the free-to-play model was intended to help make it easier for people to experience the game. As Zombies, Run co-creator and Six to Start CEO Adrian Hon explains,
[the game] has a great hook but a lot of people still think it’s just zombie groans and chases…unlike Monument Valley or 80 Days or Candy Crush, where you can understand the game from just a screenshot or video, Zombies, Run really requires people to try it out…going free-to-play helps people over that hurdle.
So now, players experiencing Zombies, Run for the first time receive access to the first four missions of season 1 right off the bat. Once a week, they have the ability to unlock a new mission to add to their growing repertoire. As a thank you to returning players, anyone who previously purchased a copy of Zombies, Run receives the first three seasons for free, and can use their weekly mission downloads to gradually claim the newest season as it’s released.
When Six to Start created Zombies, Run!, players were given the chance to plug in a pair of headphones and lose themselves in a rich narrative, where you’re asked to run to survive. And while Zombies, Run! doesn’t require its players to run, the story and many of its game mechanics are built around promoting running. After receiving feedback from fans of the game who aren’t avid runners, Six to Start and Naomi Alderman partnered with the UK Department of Health and National Health Service to release The Walk for iOS and Android devices earlier today.
Like Zombies, Run!, the primary feature of The Walk is its narrative, designed to provide audio accompaniment to your walking routine. Mere minutes before an apparent terrorist attack on a train station in Inverness, the player is given a package and told that it is of vital importance the package make it to Edinburgh. The attack is initiated by a group called The Burn and contains an EMP (Electromagnetic Pulse) which takes out all electronics, including all transportation and communication. After escaping from the train station, the package is opened and revealed to be a communication device capable of functioning after the pulse. The person on the other end becomes your guide through the chaos as you make your way on foot to deliver the package to Edinburgh.
A few weeks ago, I was given the opportunity to try a new iOS app by Six to Start called Zombies, Run!, a “running game and audio adventure” that transplants its participants into a zombie apocalypse. The story begins: you are Runner #5, a refugee of a supply helicopter crash, with no identification to prove you’re not from one of the other rival camps, trying to earn your keep in Abel Township by running on supply or rescue missions. Along the way, you collect items that will help the camp, and sometimes obtain information that might help explain who you are, how the world got in this state, and maybe even how to save it.
At its heart Zombies, Run! is designed as a narrative complement to players’ running music playlist. After starting the mission by loading up the app and swiping the “slide to run” control, the first segment of the story will start, interweaving music from the phone’s iTunes library with additional story segments until the mission is over. While running, a computerized voice informs you of items you pick up along the way: USB Keys, bottles of water, batteries, clothes . . . and often CDC records, information about other factions, or even other apps. In one document, a newspaper article describing a suspicious fire at a university contained a live Twitter account.
Zombies, Run! received its initial funding through a Kickstarter initiative, and one of the benefits offered to early backers was the ability to be inserted into the story, either as an individual or a brand. One of the companies to jump at this opportunity was the app development company ChipotleLabs. Various items recovered over the course of the story including the “Kensaido sword” and “Kensaido Manifesto” hint at a secret ninja society that predated the zombie apocalypse, and whose members work to combat the growing incursion. In addition to providing more information about the world beyond Abel Township, the items promote ChipotleLabs’ upcoming app, Kensaido.
Image courtesy of the BBC
On September 10, 2011, Pete Ryland cracked The Code and took home the coveted prize, a unique bronze and silver mathematical sculpture by Bathsheba Grossman. The lead-up to the tense finale was a collaborative transmedia treasure hunt centred around the three-part BBC2 show The Code, presented by Marcus du Sautoy. The game was designed by Six to Start, working with the BBC from the beginning to integrate clues and puzzles seamlessly within the broadcasts.
Before the first airing of The Code on July 27, about 700 postcards were sent out with an image and a code. Collaborating on Facebook, participants in this first stage soon discovered that each postcard image was a thin horizontal slice of a three-dimensional Platonic solid. Several of these “perfect” shapes then had to be combined and arranged into three concentric spherical shells – revealing the complicated nested sculpture that would be the grand prize.
Now the hunt could begin in earnest. The main stage of the game was intricately connected with the three episodes of the show: Numbers, Shapes, and Prediction. For each episode, participants discovered three clues: one by watching the program, one clue by playing related Flash games on the website, and one clue by solving a puzzle described on the blog. They also had to complete the Prime Number Challenge as a group, which involved uploading photos of all 305 prime numbers from 2 to 2011 to collectively receive the sixth clue for each episode. The six clues were then entered into a codebreaker to reveal three passwords, which granted access to the next stage of the game: The Ultimate Challenge.
Six to Start have recently introduced their latest independent game, Zombies, Run!, and it has taken only days to reach the desired amount of pledges on Kickstarter to develop it by the first quarter of 2012. It is easy to see what has gotten gamers, runners and zombie aficionados so excited.
Zombies, Run! is a running game and interactive audio adventure which takes place during a zombie apocalypse. The game mechanics are fairly simple. The player assumes the role of the zombie survivalist known as “Runner 5” by going for a run with their smartphone and a pair of headphones. As players run, they collect items that are vital for the survival of their community. Their base grows thanks to the player allocating resources where they are needed most. And as it grows, more content will be unlocked. The running missions are an integral part of a transmedia storyline which unfolds through the orders and voice recordings heard while running, and also through puzzles, websites and documents that players can uncover online once they have safely returned home. As an exercise aid, the game also keeps track of more traditional running metrics such as distance covered and calories burned.
Six to Start and the BBC have teamed up to create a transmedia experience tied in with BBC Two documentary The Code, expected to air at the end of July. The Code is presented by Professor of Mathematics Marcus du Sautoy (Horizon on BBC2, The Beauty of Diagrams on BBC4) and explores how the world around us conforms to and can be explained by mathematical codes. Six to Start are next-generation storytellers with plenty of experience creating storytelling projects for different clients, often in the form of alternate reality games or treasure hunts. They’ve worked with the BBC before on projects like Spooks: Code 9 and Seven Ages Quest. As a first for the BBC and possibly a world first, an interactive experience called The Code Challenge has been seamlessly integrated in the writing and filming of The Code since inception. Viewers can participate in an engaging treasure hunt which will take place before, during, and after the series that will extend their understanding of basic mathematical principles.
The Code Challenge begins well before the airing of the actual show. Soon, 1000 people in the UK will receive a secret message with one of the first puzzles of the challenge. For a chance to be one of those 1000, keep an eye on Twitter @bbccode and apply via Twitter or e-mail. A few weeks before the show airs, several Flash games containing clues, puzzles, and more information about the Code will also appear online. The series itself is expected to air at the end of July and will be split into three 60-minute episodes: Magic Numbers, Nature’s Building Blocks and Predicting the Future. Six clues are connected to each episode. Three will be hidden in the programme itself, which can be watched live on BBC Two or on BBC iPlayer. One community clue can only be solved by working together with a group of players. Two further clues will be revealed on the blog and through a Flash game. Players can then enter the six answers they found for each episode into the ‘codebreaker’ to receive three passwords with which they can unlock the ultimate challenge.