Ciaran’s Zombie Apocalypse Squad

It’s a discussion that everyone must have at some point in their lives, one that has haunted mankind for years. Who would you have on your zombie apocalypse survival squad?

We’re no strangers to this question here at Six to Start – after all, we spend a pretty big chunk of our time considering the undead and making them come to life in Zombies, Run!. And now we set out to answer that most pressing of questions as we ask the team, which Zombies, Run! characters would you choose to support you in the zombie apocalypse?

First up in my team is Janine de Luca. A genius electrician, survivalist, and spy, with a few tricks up her sleeve, Janine has a whole load of practical skills which would be invaluable in the apocalypse. Beyond that, she’s level-headed enough to keep her cool even in the most stressful of situations.

Photo by Nicolas Thomas on Unsplash

A possibly controversial choice, but next up is Amelia Spens. Sure, you’d have to keep an eye on her every second of the day and be thinking three steps ahead to stop her from double crossing you, but the zombie apocalypse is about more than fighting the undead – it’s about diplomacy. And knowing people. And rooting out the dark secrets of your enemies to ensure your own survival. Something that Amelia is a master of.

Peter Necropolis/Lynne is my next choice. He’s not the smoothest of guys, and his snark can get a bit exhausting, but who doesn’t want a man who is immune to zombies and semi-immortal on your apocalypse team? It’s like turning down Captain America for the Avengers!

No apocalypse squad would be complete without a medic. And for me, that has to be Doctor Kefilwe Lobatse. Calm and self-assured, Lobatse has the perfect bedside manner, and has worked in the worst sorts of situations – and that was before the zombies arrived! It’s easy to become a monster of the non-undead kind in the apocalypse, but Lobatse’s strong sense of justice will help to keep you on the right path.

Last, but not least, is Sam Yao. Every apocalypse squad needs a radio operator, and every runner needs a Sam Yao to guide them back to that red light on the tower back at base. His upbeat attitude and light-hearted chatter is the perfect balance to Janine’s severe demeanour. Even in the darkest of times, you need to discuss the important things in life – like your favourite pre-apocalypse TV shows.

radio tower with red light
photo by Steve Halama


How We Make Virtual Race ARGs

When we made our first Virtual Race for Zombies, Run! – a race you can run anywhere in the world, at a time and speed of your choice – we knew we wanted to do more than a fancy medal and certificate. Our races would be different: not just a distance to cover, not even just an action-packed story, but a whole event building up to the race itself.

And so, just like Zombies, Run!, our races combine the physical and digital worlds. All entrants get a race pack including briefing materials, a medal, and a certificate, and now on top of that we add a live story that unfolds in the weeks leading up to the race, via email, phone numbers, websites, and two training missions that help set the stage. It’s a bit like the Alternate Reality Games (ARGs) that we used to make at Six to Start – games that take place in all sorts of different media at the same time.

With each successive race, our ambition has grown. There’s only so much story you can convey in the 30-60 minutes it might take to run 5K or 10K, but by expanding the story beyond the race itself, we can make the whole experience much more exciting. That’s how we’ve gone from our first race being a straightforward single 5K/10K “mission”, to our latest races becoming multi-week, multimedia events.

We don’t expect all entrants will scour every webpage and call every number in our ARGs, so we write the race scripts without assuming any background knowledge. But because we take so much care with the story, you definitely get more out of the race the more you read!

Here’s some of our favourite race ARGs and how we made them!

Fall 2016: Xia Hifa (VR3)

Our third virtual race takes place shortly after the zombie apocalypse: you’re infiltrating Xia-Hifa Biologics, a biotech company that developed a cure for a lethal flu virus called Junin-2 that’s now sweeping the country. With civilization and health services broken down, what might have been a dangerous flu is something that could off the remainder of humanity.

We designed the Xia-Hifa website with a modern, corporate design that tells you the breadth of their work, and also provides clues about their other projects, including the ANNIE AI that runs their operations – someone you might meet during the race.

We even created a phone number for the company (no longer active!), along with a little puzzle hidden in a corrupted map…

Spring 2017: European Rescue Force (VR4)

As a member of the elite European Rescue Force, tasked with handling nuclear, biological, chemical emergencies that local and national governments can’t. With your high-tech drones and exosuits, there’s no problem too big to solve – at least, not until you hear word of a new outbreak…

We went in a very different direction for the European Rescue Force (ERF) website – this was a rawer, more data-driven, and more dynamic website that updated every single day in the weeks running up to the race. We imagined the kind of dashboard that a real emergency service would use, and coupled it with phone calls and recordings from ERF operatives on the ground across Europe, to deliver a real sense of urgency.   

We always make sure the race T-shirt fits in with the theme of the race, and I personally love the design of the European Rescue Force shirt, although it does get me some odd looks when I run around Edinburgh wearing it!

European Rescue Force “Rescue 5” race t-shirt

Halloween 2017 (VR7)

This was our first official “Halloween” race and we decided to go with a non-canonical “Treehouse of Horror”-style story, where anyone could die! Since it’s set in Abel Township, well after the apocalypse, we didn’t think it’d make much sense to have a proper website. Instead, we imagined our favorite Abel Township residents gossipping about the upcoming Halloween party via the low-tech Rofflenet forum.

Luckily enough, we had already turned Rofflenet into a ‘real’ forum for all virtual race entrants so it was easy to put the discussions online!

Part of the backstory for this race was an unusual “Demons and Darkness” game – you can still call up the fictional hints line we made for it!

+1 205 791 7088 (US)
+44 20 7183 8664 (UK)

Tomorrow Island: Halloween 2018 (VR7)

Welcome to Tomorrow Island: The Resort of the Future! It’s your mission to travel to this mysterious theme park for billionaires filled with genetically-engineered creatures, and retrieve the high-tech PRISER device that could help feed humanity. Yes, it’s Jurassic Park meets Westworld meets zombies!

We created a luxurious-but-creepy website, Discover Tomorrow Island, complete with a map and children’s introduction to the theme park. This creepiness extended to the colouring book we included in all race packs, which was a fun way to convey just how strange the genetically-altered creatures were. We aren’t talking about your garden-variety dinosaurs here!

We spend a surprising amount of time trying to figure out the best way to make race shirts interesting, and I love how we weaved the “keyshirt” directly into the Tomorrow Island story this time!

What’s next?

Our Spring 2019 Virtual Race, Train to Oban, is on sale now and we have a brand new ARG website for the New Oban Express: the world’s fastest train, travelling from London to the technological utopia of New Oban in just two hours.

The world’s fastest train. One infected zombie. A two hour journey. Your mission? Survive.

Not only that, but all entrants get a fold-out leaflet and train map showing you exactly what you might encounter along the very, very long train. I wonder how that might come in useful during the race…?

We’re also thinking about how we can use ARG storytelling techniques for Zombies, Run! more broadly – in other words, not just for virtual races. Stay tuned!

What’s on Adrian’s playlist?

Last month we checked out Ciaran’s playlist – now it’s Adrian’s turn!

Adrian Hon – CEO and Co-creator

So I’m going to share the secret behind my music playlists for races! It’s a very reliable and predictable formula: I always start with an up-tempo song that gets me excited but isn’t too fast, because let’s face it – you can’t actually run that quickly when you’re stuck in the pack. Some good starting songs:

  • Come On! Feel The Illinoise! by Sufjan Stevens:
  • At Least it Was Here (“Community” Main Title) by The 88
  • A Thief’s End (Uncharted 4) by Henry Jackman

Once the pack starts to thin out, I want a few songs that’ll settle me into a nice, solid, bouncy rhythm – again, not too fast, but not too slow. If I’m doing a half marathon, I might have 5-10 songs along these lines:

  • Lose Yourself to Dance by Daft Punk
  • Extreme Ways by Moby
  • Lost Coastlines by Okkervil River
  • Feel the Lightning by Dan Deacon

Now we’re around halfway through the race and it’s time for me to put on a burst of speed (as Sam would say)! Usually, other runners are starting to flag at this point, so it’s really satisfying to do a few sprints and overtake people. Fast, short, intense pop songs and movie soundtracks that I can best describe as “determined” are what’s necessary. Stuff that makes you feel like a hero:

  • Spider-Man Loves You by Daniel Pemberton
  • I Have to Try (The Flash) by Blake Neely
  • Brother’s Keeper (Uncharted 4) by Henry Jackman
  • My Shot (Hamilton) by Lin-Manuel Miranda
  • Portions for Foxes by Rilo Kiley

In a 5K or 10K race, I’ll usually be close to the end and I can round out my playlist with some longer, fun songs. In a half-marathon, things get trickier since I find it pretty easy to lose steam here. Here’s some great songs that keep my spirits up as I get closer to the finishing line:

  • Tron Legacy (End Titles) by Daft Punk
  • End Titles (Moulin Rouge) by Craig Armstrong
  • Moog Necklace (Ocean’s 8) by Daniel Pemberton
  • It’ll Get You There by Rilo Kiley
  • Despair by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs

Yep, there’s a lot of movie-closing soundtracks there! These work really well because they’re longer and reprise all the main themes in the movie in a satisfying and, yes, distracting way.

I rotate between five or six different race playlists for 5Ks, 10Ks and half-marathons, and of course I always love adding new songs. The only problem is that I tend to listen to my favorite songs to destruction, so I always need a new supply!


Last of the Halloween 2018 Shirts

Halloween 2018 Virtual Race short & long sleeve t-shirts

Our Halloween 2018 Virtual Race t-shirts: soft, stylish and the best thing to wear for escaping an island full of rabid hybrid animals.

Featuring athletic wicking fabric, and an exclusive Tomorrow Island: Dreamhatcher design on the front and back, it’s the perfect addition to your running wardrobe.

The last few are now available in store – but be quick, because sales must end on Friday 29 March.

Head over to the ZR Shop to get yours!

What’s on my playlist? – Ciaran

Music can play a huge role in the Zombies, Run! experience. We’ve all had times when a song has perfectly matched up with a bit of the story – and had shuffle throw up that rogue Monty Python track in the middle of a serious moment! Music can heighten emotions, especially when you’re exercising, and with so many emotionally charged missions in Zombies, Run!, it makes the choice of music pretty important!

Here, we talk to some of the people behind Zombies, Run! to find out what’s on their playlist!

Ciaran Roberts – QA and Support

My music taste is pretty eclectic (and I am always several years behind the curve when it comes to picking up new stuff). I have one big playlist with about a hundred songs on it that I just keep adding to as I find things I like. I’m a bit of a magpie! This includes everything from Fall Out Boy to Shakespeare’s Sister, a couple of anime intros and that one track I got for free from iTunes and really liked. I’ve currently been introduced to a band called Battle Tapes because of their song Belgrade, so I’m working my way through their back catalogue.

One of my favourite tracks to run to is Laura Palmer by Bastille. It really makes me feel like I’m having an epic moment when it comes on during a mission, especially if a zombie chase is involved. On the other hand, there are a couple of my favourite songs I’ve had to kick off the running rotation because the beat leads to me tripping over my own feet!

I’ve had a couple of moments of real serendipity when it comes to music, although they weren’t necessarily good for my pace. One of them was during the mission ‘Actual Cannibal Rescue Mission’ when Actual Cannibal Shia LeBeouf started playing. It did throw me a bit off my stride though. Hard as it is to run while crying, running while giggling is equally difficult!

The other was a real tear jerking experience, when Everybody Hurts by REM came up during that mission in Season 4. Sometimes my playlist just doesn’t want me to be able to keep running!


Adrian’s Running Tips

You’d think that the people who designed Zombies, Run! would be life-long runners, but nothing could be further from the truth. I used to hate running! The worst part of school for me was the weekly cross-country run, where I’d never fail to get a stitch. The entire reason I wanted to make a running game was to make it more fun and less painful.

These days, I run a lot more, and even better, I enjoy it! But I know what it was like to drag myself outside for a run, and so here are my tips for making running more fun. This isn’t a guide about how to get fast – it’s about how to make running a habit!

  • Make it as easy for yourself to go for a run as you can. Lay out your clothes and trainers the night before, or in the morning, so you can get ready at a moment’s notice. This is particularly important for places that have changeable weather!
  • You should be prepared to run every day but you should also ensure you build in time to rest. How does that work? Well, if you plan to run, say, 3-5 times a week, then it’s easy to come up with an excuse for why you aren’t going to run today (it’s cold, you’re a bit tired) and why you’ll run tomorrow instead. But the more you do this, the more likely you don’t hit five runs in a week (or even three runs). So if you can get into the mentality that you can run every day, you’re more likely to hit your goals.
  • At the same time, don’t obsess about distance and steps and calories. Running isn’t an exact science and something is always better than nothing. You might think that a 15 minute run isn’t as ‘good’ as a 30 minute run, but it’s a heck of a lot better than a zero minute run.
  • If it hurts, stop running. Especially your joints.
  • The great thing about running is that it’s one of the cheapest forms of exercise. You don’t need fancy T-shirts or socks. The one thing I’d suggest you spend money on is getting good shoes. Try to find a dedicated running shoe store to get some advice; many of them have treadmills and cameras to analyse your gait.
  • Don’t overdo it. Pushing yourself too far is counterproductive. The only times I’ve really hurt myself while running with sprained ankles or falls was when I was tired or on the brink of illness and went for a run anyway because I “had” to.
  • When it’s cold, it’s tempting to put on too many clothes, which can make you overheat. The right amount of clothes is different for each person, but I find that wearing gloves can make a huge difference on a chilly day, and can save me from having to put on a hoodie top that’d otherwise slow me down.
  • Move at a pace you feel comfortable with. Sometimes a slow jog or walk is the best. As they say, anything faster than a slow shamble will get you ahead of the zombies. But at the same time, if you feel like you have the energy, don’t be afraid to run or sprint!
  • I always start my mission and playlist before I open the door. It means I can get out of the gates fast!
My daily 7KM route around Holyrood Park and Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh

Zombies, Run! and Fanworks

By Zalia

It might sound odd to say that it was fanworks that got me into using a fitness app. Fan fiction and fan art are not the first thing that spring to mind when you think about fitness, even if plenty of fitness apps have dedicated communities. But fanworks are what got me into Zombies, Run!, and what kept me engaged during the long dark waits for the next season.

Zombies, Run! stands out because of its ability to serve both the fitness and fandom communities, allowing a level of crossover that is hard to find elsewhere. A thrilling narrative combined with a solid running app means it’s easy to find stories of people who were drawn in by the story finding themselves signing up for marathons, or hardcore runners suddenly feeling the need to share artwork of their own Runner 5.

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You see this crossover in the Unoffical Zombies, Run! Facebook group. This fan-run community skews towards the fitness side of things; runners will find plenty of posts containing advice, people’s personal bests, and information about upcoming races. But it’s impossible to scroll through more than a few posts without stumbling across another side of fandom. Rubbing shoulders with a post about a runner’s first 5K will be someone asking whether a character from Zombies, Run! would approve of their running route. Underneath a happy photo of new running shoes, you’ll find someone’s post of ‘Notes Found on Abel Township’s Corkboard’. Artwork of characters, custom Zombies, Run! Playlists, themed medal holders – there’s a strong streak of creativity and engagement on display.

The fanworks-to-fitness ratio skews the other way when it comes to the other bastion of Zombies, Run! fandom: Tumblr. It’s hard to say exactly how much fanwork there is on Tumblr. The Unofficial Fanwork Archive which recorded everything from 2012 to 2016 has over 2500 links, so there could easily be over 4000 individual fanworks by now.

While most fanwork posts on the Facebook group tend to focus on a personal experience of being Runner 5, the Tumblr fandom delves into the world of Zombies, Run! in a different way. Runner 5 is still the most featured character in fanworks (inevitable with their status as the main ‘character’) but there is far more content starring the rest of the cast. For example, the characters who host Radio Abel – Jack and Eugene – each have nearly as many appearances in fanwork as Runner 5. There are plenty of fanworks which don’t include Runner 5 at all!

The fanworks cover a huge range of topics. You can see art that illustrates a scene from the app, or read about a world where Maxine and Sam are college students… or jaeger pilots in Pacific Rim. And far from being a solitary undertaking, the fandom has organised special events that have built a strong community and enduring friendships. For example, the Iron Zombies challenge, hosted on chat rooms, gave participants 90 minutes to create something based on a series of prompts, or to sit back and cheer on other people as they raced against the timer. Exchanges, such as the Secret Santa, are meticulously organised, with hours of work going into making sure participants are matched up.

Fandom’s creativity has not gone unnoticed! In the past, Six to Start have drawn from this talented pool – artist Kascha Sweeney drew fan art before becoming the company’s official artist, and a writer on Seasons 2-4, Andrea Klassen, wrote some exceptional Zombies, Run! Fan fiction.

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And it isn’t restricted to fiction and art. The fantastic fan podcast, ‘Podcast Detected’, which I was involved with early on, has been running since 2014. It’s an eclectic mix of in-depth discussions, mission reviews, and the app’s place in a wider fandom community. Some episodes include interviews with fans, and with the cast and crew of the app itself. They’ve even recorded at a few special live events.

The NineWorlds Geekfest convention played host to Zombies, Run! panels for several years and featured writers, actors, and production staff. I have a special fondness for these since I was involved in organising them, just from love of the app. Attendees had the chance to hear stories from the soundbooth, the writers’ thoughts about what they’d like to do in future, and ask questions about the creation of the app. These and other meetups, such as the Zombies, Run! Live event in 2015, have provided a great opportunity for fans and creators to come together to celebrate the app and the fandom that they’ve created.

With so much on offer in the Zombies, Run! fan community, it’s easy to see why people keep coming back season after season. The winter blues can make it hard to even consider running at times, but the strong and creative community built up around Zombies, Run! is what keeps me waiting for the next time the gates of Abel Township are raised.

Here’s a list of places you can check out Zombies, Run! Fanworks: 

What are your favourite fanworks? Let us know on Twitter @zombiesrungame, or in the comments below!

State of the Township: Winter 2018

Hello Runners 5! It’s almost the end of the year, which makes it the perfect time to look at what we’ve done with Zombies, Run! since our last update in Spring, and what we’re planning for the first half of 2019.

I’m really happy with the improvements we’ve made to ZR recently. We added some big new features like Statistics & Personal Bests and support for Siri Shortcuts. We also spent time improving accessibility on both Android and iPhone, including much better support for VoiceOver assistance for the visually-impaired. We care a lot about making ZR accessible for as many people as possible, so we’re really glad to be bringing you all such big improvements in these areas.

Our boardgame has continued to reach new audiences this year, and we were thrilled to see glowing reviews from Rahdo Runs Through and Big Boss Battle. We’re preparing to release the next big update for the boardgame app, which includes not only a number of bug fixes but also a tonne of exciting new content from our amazing guest writers, including Chocolat author Joanne Harris!

I know it’s practically a joke to read “bug fixes and performance improvements” in app updates, but we really did fix a lot of bugs in recent months! ZR still isn’t entirely crash-free but we’re seeing a huge improvement in stability and we’re committed to continuing that work.

So what’s happening next?

Technology

In the first half of 2019, we’ll be doing a lot of work behind the scenes to improve the performance of Zombies, Run! When we first created ZR, we made some assumptions about how many missions we might have, and let’s just say we’ve blown well past those assumptions. So we’re going to make ZR faster, especially on older phones, and that will also improve the stability of the app – fewer crashes and hiccups during runs! We’re also hoping to roll out a feature that will save in-progress run logs in case of crashes, battery problems, or accidental app closure.

Not every change will be behind the scenes, though. We’ll be improving the design of the app to make it easier and faster to customise your runs, and to help new players discover the many, many, many features that Zombies, Run! already has. Part of that will include improving subscription management and the way we explain how to use Zombies, Run!

Finally, we’ll be spending a lot of our time on some secret developments that you’ll hear more about in due time. We’re really excited to tell you more!

Story

Season 8 will be coming this Spring from ZR co-creator and lead writer Naomi Alderman, and next month we’ll be revealing our Spring 2019 Virtual Race. If you like zombie movies and foreign films, you’re going to love this race!

That’s not all! We’ll be adding something entirely new to Zombies, Run! that everyone can enjoy – new runners and veterans…

Community

We’ve added some fantastic new merch to our official store this year, including new posters, mugs, T-shirts, and tote bags, and we’ll be keeping up the pace next year!

We’re also exploring the idea of holding official fan events in both the US and UK – potentially even a fan convention in London! We always love meeting fans and we’d like to reach out further, so watch this space for more details.

Later in 2019…

Our main source of income for Zombies, Run! is from subscriptions. We think this is a really healthy way of supporting development – as long as you continue to enjoy Zombies, Run!, we can continue to maintain and improve it with new stories and features for years to come. That’s why one of big goals this year is to give you more for your subscription, and you’ll start to see that pay off in the coming months.

Apple Music and Apple Watch are still on our to-do list, and we hope to use their new updates to improve our support for both of them in the future.

We’re all really grateful for your support throughout the years, and we can’t wait to see what you think of what’s coming next year!

– Adrian Hon, CEO and Lead Designer at Six to Start

Escape from Tomorrow Island: VR7 Roundup

The results are in! Our Halloween Virtual Race 2018 has been a resounding success, with over 2200 races run, thousands of kilometres’ distance covered, and PRISER devices saved in 1299 cities around the world! 

 

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As always, the best part of running this Virtual Race has been seeing all you Runners Five out there sharing your hard-won progress, getting involved in all the twists and turns of the story, and showing off those medals at the end! 

We also got the chance to meet up with a few Runners Five when we hosted our London meetup to run VR7 together! 

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Congratulations on your races, everyone! Abel Township is proud of everyone who escaped Tomorrow Island. Sign up now at www.zombiesvirtualrace.com to make sure you’re on board for our next adventure! 

Our Amazing New Statistics and Personal Bests

In the next few days, we’re rolling out our 7.2 update on iPhone and Android, and it comes with one big new feature: all-new Statistics including Personal Bests!

We’ve completely redesigned our Statistics feature, making it easier and faster to use than ever. You can view your distance, time, pace, calories, supplies, and zombie chases for every week, month and year that you’ve played Zombies, Run! 

And then there’s Personal Bests – the most requested feature from our fans! We’re calculating your best 1K, 1 mile, 5K, 10K, half-marathon and marathon distances, not only for your new runs but all your historical runs. Yes, that’s the sound of our servers number-crunching their way through millions of runs on ZombieLink!

That’s not all! We’ve added a new Progress section, so you can see your journey through all seven Seasons of Zombies, Run!, plus our Virtual Races:

Statistics are available for all Pro Members, and for the first time, we’re offering a preview of your current month’s stats to all users!

Our 7.2 update doesn’t stop there. On both iPhone and Android, we’ve included several important bug fixes and performance improvements, and on iPhone we’ve included:

  • Improved VoiceOver accessibility across the app
  • Improved Calorie calculation (it was way too low before)
  • Race mission list now shows progress indicators against each mission

We have plenty more we’re excited to show you in the coming months, so stay safe out there, Runner 5!