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