Today we have a double-post – from writer Andrea Phillips and narrative designer Matt Wieteska – on how the new interval training mode came to be. It’s a complicated tale, and has been two years in the making – which is why the story’s set firmly in Season 1! – so we thought it’d be great for Matt and Andrea to describe how the new mode was created.
Firstly, here’s Andrea to talk about her work in writing for interval training:
INTERVAL TRAINING! It’s out in Zombies, Run 3! AND I AM SO EXCITED!
You see, I wrote interval training scripts for the Zombies, Run! family back in April… of 2012. Mm-hmm. I see you’ve done the math. It’s been a bit of a wait, huh?
But now the happy day is nearly here. Finally, I can share my excitement with the world – and you get to do interval training. Plus zombies!
Which is great for runners, by the way. The intervals, I mean, the zombies as such are not so great for you. But intervals build endurance! Cardiovascular capacity! Speed! Everything you need to get ahead of a shambling horde and stay well out of biting range.
But there are a few challenges involved in making a game for intervals that require a break from the usual ZR format. You can’t know how many intervals someone is going to want to do, for one. Can’t know for sure how long each one will be, or how long the rest period between should be. And interval training needs to be tailored to the individual runner’s ability and goals, so we can’t just make up a one-size-fits-all interval series and make everybody happy.
On top of that, it’s really hard to write a single overarching story for intervals… because an interval trainer will want to do them again and again. It’s a recurring task, like washing the dishes, or brushing your teeth.
And so for interval training, we went in a new direction. After all, the people of Abel Township have recurring tasks, too. Did you ever want a little more insight into how exactly daily life in Abel rolls out? How they gather food, say, or do laundry?
Now, for the first time, you get to help the fine people of Abel Township finish their perfectly ordinary daily routines. In their own… particular way, of course.
Lace up, you have some chores to do, Runner Five!
And here’s Matt, to talk about the technical challenges of creating the new mode:
Designing Interval Training mode for Zombies, Run! presented us with a couple of seemingly incompatible goals. Firstly, for it to be useful as an exercise tool, Interval Training had to allow users to customise and create their own workout routines. Secondly, it needed to give runners the immersive, entertaining running experience that Zombies, Run! is known for.
Making the two work together proved to be an unique challenge, as Andrea has discussed: how do you write a story when you don’t know how long it needs to be? Moreover, how do you write a story to fit a workout when you have no idea whether the player will be walking, jogging or sprinting flat-out at a particular moment? Finally, how do you communicate the pace-changes that interval training programmes are famous for without ruining the story?
These were the problems presented to Alex Macmillan (Lead Dev at the time) and myself when it came time to design Interval Training. We ran through a few options at the beginning, each less feasible than the last:
1) Design the workout routines for the players and then write scripts for those specific workouts. (Making the app a lot less useful for actual training.)
2) Write a bunch of scenes which go along with each type of exercise, then play them at relevant times. (Making the story an essentially non-sensical sequence of events with no relationship to one-another, as well as probably playing clips over the top of one another.)
3) Write specific scripts for every possible permutation of intervals and every possible run length. (Making Andrea spontaneously combust when she needed to write well over 8.3×10^81 scripts)
Basically, we were stumped.
In true British fashion, we finally figured the problem out over a post-work pint. It doesn’t matter whether the player is walking, jogging, or sprinting, nor does it matter what they’ll be doing next. Instead, all that matters is whether the player is currently speeding up or slowing down. That means we can structure the story around periods of rising or falling action, which can be chained together until the workout’s finished, with changes of pace cued by a secondary character. Yes, thanks, mine’s a stout.
Actually getting all this working proved to be rather more complex than it sounded over that (/ those) beer (s), requiring the creation of several elaborate flowcharts, diagrams and spreadsheets. Alex M makes a mean diagram, let me tell you*. To top it all off, someone had to actually make the damned thing work, a task which fell to the incomparable Mohsen Ramezanpoor, who handled all the implementation and user experience design.
In the end, though, I’m confident that we created a game-mode which is fun, which fits in perfectly with the world of Zombies, Run!, and which lets you have an exciting running experience no matter which intervals you choose.
Guest post by Matt Wieteska, narrative designer for Interval Training Mode. He also writes the Radio Abel and Airdrop segments for Zombies, Run!, and is the audio director for all of Six to Start’s games.
* I second this. You have barely lived if you have not seen one of Alex M’s diagrams. – Naomi Alderman, Lead Writer and Co-Creator
We are aware that some Android users are experiencing issues with the Zombies, Run! in-app store which is preventing people from obtaining Season Passes. We’re currently working on a fix for this which will be made available as soon as we can — in the meantime, we will be keeping you up to date via the Zombies, Run! Twitter feed.
We’ll also be releasing a new version of Zombies, Run! on iOS which fixes an issue with the Season 3 Special Pass. Currently this will only be available to buy for people who have previously bought *any* Season 2 Pass and the Season 1 Race Missions.
We’re changing this so that anyone who has previously purchased Season 2 content (a Season 2 Season Pass, Season 2 Pass Plus or a Season 2 Side Mission Pass) will be able to get hold of the Season 3 Special Pass.
Rest assured that the current launch sale for Season Passes will not end until shortly after these problems are solved, so you won’t miss out on your chance to get access to all of our upcoming Season 3 content at a discounted price.
We apologise for any inconvenience that has been caused. We’re working to get these problems solved as quickly as possible!
The wait is over! Zombies, Run! 3 is out right now. You can get your hands on it by heading over to the iOS App Store and the Google Play Store and updating your existing Zombies, Run! app for free!
60 new missions await! The first three episodes of Season 3 are free to download right now and we’ll be releasing more every week. Pick up a season pass and you’ll have access to these new missions as and when they’re available.
To celebrate the launch, we’ve dropped the price of all Season Passes, but only for a limited time:
Season 3 Pass: $5.99 (usually $7.99) All 60+ Season 3 Missions
Season 2 Pass: $5.99 (usually $7.99) All 60+ Season 2 Story Missions
We also have some new special passes:
All Access Pass (iOS): $13.99 (usually $17.99) Includes Season 2, Season 3, Race Missions and Interval Training Mode
All Access Pass (Android): $11.99 (usually $15.99) Includes Season 2, Season 3, and Race Missions
Season 3 Pass Plus (iOS): $7.99 (usually $9.99) Includes Season 3 and Interval Training Mode
We have one more surprise to share with you before Zombies, Run! 3’s release tomorrow: an entirely new game mode for iOS, one you’ve been requesting for quite a while. That’s right, advanced interval training is coming to Zombies, Run!
With interval training, you can construct custom workouts out of walking, jogging, and running, all wrapped into a dynamic and intense story — so whether you want a quick seven minute routine of sprinting and walking, or a longer twenty minute mixture of walking and jogging, the new interval training mode has you covered!
We’ll have a more in-depth look at how it works along with its development and writing process in the coming days. We’re currently still planning how and when to bring interval training to Android, but in the meantime rest assured that the interval training mode does not contain any story essential to the main plot.
You’ll be able to try out interval training for free with ZR3, and it’ll cost only $2.99 to create unlimited custom workouts!
For those of you who have completed all of the Zombies, Run! missions we’ve released so far, we’ve put together a cheat sheet to help remind you of the Zombies, Run! story so far. That way you can jump straight into the Season 3 missions with the story fresh in your mind.
If you’re new to Zombies, Run! we recommend starting from Season One and experiencing the entire story as it was intended. You’ve got over 100 missions to play, with new Season 3 episodes releasing each week, so you’d best get cracking!
Zombies, Run! begins as your helicopter crashes in the midst of a swarm of zombies. You were on your way to Abel Township to undertake a secret mission: “Project Greenshoot”. Abel’s comms operator Sam Yao and their doctor, Maxine Myers guide you through the hostile territory. On your way, zombies at your heels, you pass through the hospital to pick up an important box from the CDC.
Janine DeLuca, the owner of the farmhouse which has become Abel Township welcomes you grudgingly – and you’re given the designation of Runner 5. It’s
only fitting, as the zombified corpse of the previous Runner 5 was on your tail as you approached the settlement. Some zombies are faster than others – no one knows why.
Evan Deaubl, Runner 7, the Head of Runners, shows you around the township – the place has been held together by the iron will of Major de Santa who’s currently away at a military base in the north. You begin to undertake missions – supply and rescue, distracting zombies and warning nearby settlements of approaching danger. One run – an attempt to rendezvous with some informants from neighbouring settlement New Canton – goes badly wrong. Treacherous New Canton had been trying to trap you, and you have to run home after dark with only Sam Yao’s voice to guide you in.
Sara Smith, Runner 8, knows more than she’s telling about Project Greenshoot. On a run out to the crashed helicopter, she lets you know that she has her suspicions of you – but your credentials check out when she finds them in the chopper.
Meanwhile, Dr Myers has been investigating the CDD box and sends you on a mission to retrieve equipment from the university. You find more than you’d expected: Maxine’s girlfriend Paula, knowing that the zombies would break into the compound and kill her, recorded a last message for with information about the zombie plague’s Patient Zero. Paula suspects that her supervisor, Professor Van Ark, was attempting to cover up his role in the apocalypse.
Zombie behaviour expert Runner 10 sadly succumbs to the zombie virus. His last wish is for a message to be delivered to his daughter, Veronica. Abel mourns its loss, but more danger is just round the corner. You save a New Canton Runner, Lem, who gives you his headset as he’s about to die. You hear New Canton planning an attack on Abel.
New Canton attack just as a huge horde of fast zombies descends on Abel. New Canton retreats. Runners scatter. It’s chaos. You, Runner 4 and Runner 8 make it to the top of a nearby hill, where you witness a group of zombies controlled by musical tones firing a bazooka directly at Abel! The blast knocks you cold.
You wake, disoriented. Runner 8 tells you that she’s been bitten. Abel is burning, so you can’t go back. New Canton wants you dead.
Suddenly, your headphones pick up a broadcast. It’s Major de Santa, leader of Abel. She tells you: you can stop running now.
Race Missions (Abel and New Canton)
The race missions are set just before the finale of Zombies, Run! Season One. Abel sends you on a mission to find out more about the zombie plague’s Patient Zero. Finding Patient Zero’s workplace destroyed, you run to the home of Professor Van Ark, in the hope that he will have kept notes and files there.
Surprisingly, Van Ark himself is at his old home. In an attempt to escape from the zombies, Van Ark is bitten and urges you to leave without him. He tells you that Paula may still be alive and could be at the Jeffro Complex. You go there, with Doctor Myers – but it was a trap, and Van Ark’s zombie bite is healed! You only escape with the unexpected aid of Archie, a New Canton Runner.
New Canton had been organising a pre-emptive strike against the Jeffro Complex. While they set their explosives, they overhear Van Ark and Paula talking: she’s been working on a treatment for the zombie virus. It’s not a cure, but it does keep Van Ark from becoming a zombie… and it’s revealed that Paula herself has been bitten at some point, and needs the treatment too.
Season Two opens a few weeks after the massive attack against Abel. Now that they have a common enemy, New Canton and Abel Township have formed a truce and are working together against Van Ark.
Not everyone is happy with this truce, though. Nadia, New Canton’s radio operator, learns that Runner 5’s use of Lem’s headset was what gave her false hope that he might be alive. She sends you on a suicide mission, but Sam comes to the rescue and Nadia is put under house arrest.
Meanwhile, Maxine is working on a sedation formula to slow down zombies. A mysterious message summons you by the name ‘Runner 5’ to a shipwreck on the coast. There, you’re surprised to meet Runner 8, alive and well!
Later, while scouting a possible Van Ark base, Archie is captured by tone-controlled fast zombies. With Archie’s boyfriend Jamie, you race to find out where she’s been taken, while listening in to her being interrogated by Van Ark. The Professor wants to know what the Major’s planning, but Archie won’t say. Archie does let slip in Paula’s hearing that Maxine is still alive and is working at Abel. You and Jamie attempt to rescue Archie but are too late; Van Ark kills her.
Runner 8 and Janine finally tell you about Project Greenshoot – there’s a secret lab underneath Abel that houses everything required to reboot society and recover from the apocalypse. We also discover that there’s a traitor in Abel, feeding information back to Van Ark.
An army of Van Ark’s fast zombies attacks Abel. Maxine’s zombie formula makes short work of them and the threat is neutralised. You head off to find some fuel for planes that will be used to spread the formula around the country, but it’s not easy. At one point, you’re attacked by bandits and rescued by militarised Girl Guides. And in the chaos of a sneak attack on Abel Township, those same bandits manage to steal the formula-related lab notes from Maxine’s medical tent.
Maxine receives what she’s sure is a secret message from Paula, and takes you on a mission to investigate. You do find Paula, but she tells you it wasn’t her who sent the message. Van Ark springs his trap: he sent the message! In the skirmish he’s mortally wounded, but recovers instantly. He’s now functionally immortal – but a man on whom Van Ark’s blood splattered becomes a zombie.
Paula rescues you from Van Ark’s clutches, and sends you back to Abel with information and supplies for Maxine’s research.
The number of potential traitors within Abel is narrowed down. It can only be you or Runners 3, 7 or 8. When Runner 7 leaves Abel, stealing a plane to fly to his Caribbean hideout, it’s clear he isn’t the traitor. But whoever the traitor is, they’ve been giving intel to the bandits, whose headquarters are in a nearby prison.
You end up trapped in the prison; it’s only with the help of Louise, an ex-girlfriend of Maxine’s, that you manage to escape. In a fight with a dangerous serial killer who also escaped from the prison, Runner 8 is injured – her blood spatters over Esteban, a New Canton functionary whom she was rescuing. Suspicion falls on Runner 8 when Esteban turns grey – could Runner 8 be the traitor, receiving the same treatments as Van Ark?
Runner 8 is held and interrogated by Janine and the Major. She breaks Janine’s arm, kills the Major and escapes, taking you with as a hostage. Van Ark tortures you, and reveals that there is a second traitor within Abel. In a sudden about-face, Runner 8 attacks Van Ark, handcuffs him, and frees you. She wasn’t the traitor after all! That means it must be Runner 3.
Van Ark frees himself by cutting off his own hand and destroys the treatment machine to prevent Runner 8 from getting the treatment she desperately needs to fend off the zombie virus. She heads to New Canton to try and get treated there.
Meanwhile, Runner 3 knows he’s been unmasked, so he kidnaps one of Jamie’s foster children. Runner 8 gives up her motorbike ride to New Canton so that you and Jamie can rescue the child – but this means Runner 8 doesn’t get her treatment in time, and dies in Paula’s arms.
You chase after Van Ark with a serum which, it’s hoped, will prevent him from regenerating. He escapes from you, but you shoot down his plane with a rocket launcher – a taste of his own medicine! He perishes in the crash.
Abel celebrates — the battle is won! Abel is safe from Van Ark and his army of mind controlled zombies and Paula and Maxine are finally together.
Suddenly, a strange tone sounds and several people from Abel mindlessly walk out of the gates in unison — including Dr. Maxine Myers. There’s nothing anyone can do to stop them and no way of knowing where they’re going… or why.
New Canton Runner Five
During these special side missions you play New Canton Runner 5, who has run to London to work with Londoners Robbie and Diana, who are investigating megacorporation Comansys Technologies. They’ve heard there’s something vital inside the Comansys building.
The three of you drill your way into a Comansys vault from the London Underground and locate a device which repels zombies. Diana reveals herself to be a Comansys agent and kills Robbie. You escape the building before it self destructs, but Diana pursues you through the Underground tunnels.
A new friend, Tony, helps you escape London with the devices, but Diana finds you on the surface. Surrounded by zombies, she shoots you. Does New Canton 5’s story end here?
Naomi sits down with guest writer Janni-Lee Simner to talk about her experience writing a mission for the game.
It’s been a particular thrill to me as lead writer that the game’s attracted so many writing fans, and whenever I see a writer tweeting that they’re a fan, I instantly grab them and ask for a guest episode! So, we have a very exciting roster of guest-writers coming up for Season 3 of Zombies, Run!
First up is award-winning fantasy and young adult author Janni Lee Simner, creator of the Bones of Faerie series. She’s got a fantastic episode coming up, so I asked her what attracted her to writing for the game:
“When I first heard about Zombies, Run! my reaction was pretty much, "Oh, that’s brilliant,” because this was the first running app I’d heard of that actually gave one something to run from. I downloaded it because I thought it’d be a good way to get back to running, and was surprised to find myself invested in the characters and the story – it turned out the game wasn’t just a cute gimmick, but a really awesome piece of writing.
There’s so much I fell in love with: the characters, the fact that no one was a token anything (and the fact that no one, not even the children, existed just to be placed in danger, but everyone was a real character), the craft required to consistently tell a story in the second person, week after week, in a way that allowed every player to imagine they were the main character. And iI discovered that wanting to know what happens next is pretty much the best running motivation out there.
Also, I adore the fact that my 4.5 mile/7.25 km per hour running pace is always just fast enough to save the entire world. Every Single Time. 🙂
So I was already pretty invested in all the Zombies, Run! characters when I got the invite to write an episode.
There might have been some squeeeeeeeeing involved. Of course I wanted to enter the Zombies, Run! universe as a writer as well as a runner, and it’s been tremendously fun to get to do so.“
And of course we all have our favourite running songs, so I asked Janni Lee what hers was:
"My favorite running song changes over time, but I especially love when something wildly inappropriate comes up. Lisa Loeb’s "Snow Day” is one that does that a lot. Lyrics like “It’s not gonna matter if you fall down twice” are pretty entertaining when you’re running from zombies and it very much does matter!
And then there was the weird phase where I was running from zombies to the soundtrack from The Muppets. These things happen.“
They do. In my version of the game, Jack did something "you don’t want to know” to the theme song from James Bond.
Naomi returns to the blog to talk about some changes that have been made to the player’s interaction with the story in Zombies, Run! 3.
I’m really so excited to be starting to let Season 3 of Zombies, Run! loose on our audience. It’s been months in the planning – we started talking about our plot arcs and returning characters back in October 2013 – and we’ve got some fantastic surprises coming up, both in plot and in the guest writers we’ve managed to snag for this season.
One thing we’ve wanted to do for ages was to introduce a bit of *choice* into the game for players. I know we’ve already got the base builder, and many of our Runner Fives have made amazing and beautiful Abel Townships. I thought it’d be fun to extend this kind of choice just a little bit, and give Runner Five a couple of options about what they’re actually going to do during the game. It’s this kind of thing that makes games-writing so dynamic and engaging.
So, once or twice this season, you’ll be asked to make a decision. We had to think carefully about how to do this – for one thing, you don’t want to be having to stop and press a button while running! And it’s been a design principle from the beginning that we’ll never ‘punish’ the player too much. After all, you’re already out there running, so you’re already a hero!
All this means that you won’t be able to destroy Abel with a single bad decision – but some of the things you do will have knock-on effects later in the game. And I’m excited to hear what you make of what we’ve done!