Between the Lines

A man with mysterious motives, a long abandoned house and a secret that won’t stay buried.

Sometimes a book just jumps off the page at you.

Available now in Zombies, Run!, Between the Lines is a chilling horror story written by Tom Crowley. This is the first project to be released from our New Adventures Commissioning process, and we’re extremely excited to unleash it upon you all. You’ll never look at an audiobook the same way again…

Once you’ve played Between the Lines and had a little time to recover, check out this conversation between Tom and Six to Start head of production Matt Wieteska to hear a little bit more about the inspiration for Between the Lines, Tom’s writing background, and why he hates the word “intimate”. Be warned – this interview contains full spoilers for Between the Lines.

Cast

Amy Rockson: Narrator

Amy is an RSC alumnus with vast experience in classical and modern theatre, film and television (Spotlight).

She is the voice of Zoe Crick in our ground-breaking Zombies, Run! game.

Theatre includes: Montjoy in Henry V (Shakespeare at the Tobacco Factory/Theatre Royal Bath); Duchess/Scholar in DOCTOR FAUSTUS (RSC/Swan Theatre/Barbican London); Charmian in ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA (Shakespeare Live! from the RSC/ BBC live broadcast).

Film and Television includes: HOLBY CITY (BBC); DOCTORS (BBC); LONDON VOODOO (Zen Films); PANCHRESTON (Hubris Productions); GOING NOWHERE (Firewater Productions)

Robert Dukes: Invader

Robert Dukes is an award winning actor whose most recent work saw him playing Detective Ron Adkin in the greatly anticipated feature Lair, alongside Corey Johnson.  (Spotlight)

Known for his work on indie hits, The Code, A Friend In Need and the upcoming No Way Back, Robert has also voiced many television campaigns and provides numerous voices for the video game app, Zombies, Run! 

Aislinn De’Ath: Cohabitant

Aislinn De’Ath is a multi award winning, Drama Centre trained actress. (Spotlight)

Known for her leading roles in hotly anticipated features LAIR & Cornered, video games (The Infectious Madness of Doctor Dekker, The Shapeshifting Detective, Dark Night’s with Poe & Munro, Zombies, Run! ), various short films (including indie hit A Friend In Need and fan favourite Growing Shadows as well as a multitude of other award winning shorts) and roles on Silent Witness & various television movies.

Commissioning New Adventures: Building an Inclusive Process

Last year, we decided to add new types of story to Zombies, Run!, and to bring new creators into our fold. Today, we’re going to talk about how we tried to build an inclusive process, what we’re proud of, and what we want to improve for next time.

What if there weren’t any zombies?

It’s right there in the title: “Zombies, Run!”: we make a smartphone fitness game where you run away from zombies. Yes, you run away from zombies in a rich, characterful, masterfully-plotted adventure by award-winning global megastar author Naomi Alderman – but you’re always running from zombies. But then, in 2019, we asked ourselves: what if you weren’t?

This wasn’t the first time we’d explored new kinds of running stories. On our Racelink platform, we’d created virtual races for charities – everything from thrilling spy adventures and a heart-pounding escape from an erupting volcano (written by a working geologist!) to non-fiction journeys across thesolar system. These new stories had shown us that our audio storytelling engine was really flexible and could support many different narrative styles.

We were also driven by the fact that Zombies, Run! was entering its eighth(!) season. Unlike TV shows, where you can binge dozens of episodes a week to catch up to the rest of the audience, our players would need to run for multiple years before catching up to our latest stories! So we wanted to make sure we were making great stories that everyone could enjoy, while also continuing the epic adventures of Runner 5 that had helped so many of our players meet their fitness goals over the years.

These impulses combined to inspire a big change! Starting with Season 8, we cut our usual 40 episode season of Zombies, Run! down to 30. That gave us the room for two brand new five-episode “alternate universe” stories featuring twists on the beloved central characters. These ten episodes could be played by anyone, no matter where they were in the main story. The world of Zombies, Run! was expanding.

Rule Britannia saw a horde of zombies threaten Hadrian’s Wall

From a doomed Venusian Colony to a horde of zombies threatening the Roman Legion at Hadrian’s Wall, these new settings were an immediate hit with our players. We were keen to meet the demand for new stories – perhaps with stories that didn’t feature zombies at all!

So, in October 2019, we introduced the New Adventures, stories set completely outside the Zombies, Run! universe that we’d commission through an open call.

From our first discussions about commissioning, we worked intentionally to build a process that would minimise our own internal biases and to combat existing power imbalances. This all centred around one key question: “Whose voices are we amplifying?”

Aims and Process

We set ourselves three key aims for our commissioning process:

  • Find a group of talented writers with a diverse set of ideas and backgrounds.
  • Give fair compensation for every level of the process, and not to ask for an unreasonable amount of labour from anyone.
  • Create stories that our audience will love, and which are not harmful to them.

All three aims come from a single core drive: to use the privilege of our platform responsibly. Here’s how we tried to fulfil that:

Whose Voices Are We Amplifying?

When we set out to introduce New Adventures to Zombies, Run!, we had a great opportunity – not only to expand our variety of stories but to also increase the diversity of writers we had telling those stories. If we were going to commission new scripts, we wanted to amplify voices that aren’t ordinarily be heard so easily.

It’s all too easy to let unaddressed bias creep into decision-making and to reinforce existing power structures. So, from our first internal discussions about commissioning, we worked intentionally to build a process that would minimise our own internal bias, and to combat existing power imbalances.

This all centred around a single key question: “Whose voices are we amplifying?” We would come back to it regularly: Whose voices are we amplifying when we advertise our open call in certain spaces? Whose voices are we amplifying when we set certain requirements for pitches? Whose voices are we amplifying when we talk about pitches in a particular manner?

This wasn’t easy and it led to our meetings becoming much longer than they might have been otherwise, but it forced us to be very aware of the unintentional effects of our decisions, and of the places where structural bias is created. Committing to this from the beginning strengthened our habit of having uncomfortable conversations, of looking inward, and of attempting to mitigate our own biases through our process.

No Unpaid Work

For our open call, we asked people to submit only as much as we absolutely needed: a maximum of three 50-word ideas, and a single page dialogue sample. We asked writers to avoid, if possible, creating a dialogue sample specifically for this submission. This was all to reduce the amount of work writers would be doing before we paid them for an outline, or reject them from this commissioning round.

Our Commissioning Process flowchart

As writers made into the next stages of the commissioning process, we committed to paying them promptly as each stage of work was completed. It’s the fair thing to do, and we didn’t want to make it difficult for writers with greater financial pressures to take part in the process.

This also meant we could commission more liberally at the beginning of the process. By dividing payment up explicitly by stages of work completed, we avoided putting our writers in the position of having to assume the risk for their pitches not proceeding onto the next round; we always paid for work done. This also meant we weren’t put in the position of being overly committed to a piece that wasn’t working for us.

The end result? We had a wide variety of ideas and writers at the outline stage, and therefore a better variety of completed scripts.

Constant Process Review

At the end of each meeting, we reviewed our practise and questioned our performance – not only from a business and logistics perspective, but also in terms of how our workflow might be affecting the writers or how we might be introducing bias. We made explicit space for our team to give feedback on this publicly and privately, and made any changes quickly.

One key example of this came as we reviewed the outlines from the first phase of the commissioning process. As there were too many outlines to discuss in a single meeting, we split our discussion into several calls. For the first call, the person leading the discussion introduced each outline in turn, gave their opinion on it, and then invited comment from the rest of the team.

This was quick and easy to understand , but in our discussion at the end of the meeting, we realised that this was unintentionally promoting the opinions of the discussion leader over those of the rest of the team. For the remainder of the outline discussions, we had a different team member introduce each outline in order to make sure everyone’s voices were heard equally.

In every case where we felt our shortlist was unbalanced, we promoted extra submissions rather eliminating others. We worked by addition rather than subtraction.

An Inclusive Selection Process

One of the most difficult parts of the process was deciding how we’d choose which writers to take forward to the next round, keeping in mind we wanted to amplify voices from under-represented communities. Our first instinct was to use a “blind” process that anonymised submissions and making decisions based solely on what we could read on the page.

However, we quickly realised that this would put us at risk of commissioning potentially harmful work, by unintentionally asking writers to tell stories which they lacked the lived experience or understanding required to tell sensitively. A blind process would also risk us privileging those with advantages that might make them better at presenting their work – those who have been able to attend courses on screenwriting format, for example – over those who might produce better scripts but have less industry experience.

So, our final approach combined an uninformed assessment with a informed selection, which took place over a couple of phases:

  1. Submission; Writers sent us one page of dialogue, up to three short (< 50 word) pitches, and a cover letter. We invited our writers to self-identify to us however they felt comfortable. We were clear that we wanted to especially encourage people from under-represented communities to apply, but also acknowledged that not everyone feels safe identifying themselves as such.
  2. The “dialogue filter”; one of our team processed each new submission by reading the included dialogue sample without reading the writer’s name, cover letter, or pitches. We rejected any submissions that didn’t demonstrate sufficient aptitude for dramatic dialogue, giving us confidence that anyone we brought forward from this stage would at least be able to create a compelling script.
  3. Pitch Ratings; each member of our team rated the writer’s pitches, giving an overall score out of 10. This was done without reading names, cover letters, or dialogue. We then rejected all submissions whose average rating was below 6, and automatically moved forward to our shortlist all submissions whose average rating was above 8. The remainder made up our longlist.
  4. Pitch Selection; with our long-list of pitches, the full team then read each writer’s cover letter and dialogue, as well as re-reading their pitches. In a series of meetings, we discussed each submission in turn, taking all available information into account as we built our shortlist by “promoting” those submissions we felt most strongly about.
  5. Pitch Shortlist; we then assessed our shortlist to ensure it was broadly representative and balanced, in terms of the writers’ gender, background, and other biographical information given to us, but also in terms of their level of experience and professional background. We also took great care to ensure a good balance of themes and genres within the slate.
    In every case where we felt our shortlist was unbalanced, we promoted extra submissions, rather than eliminating others. We worked by addition rather than subtraction. This often led to us bringing forward submissions that one or two members of our team were especially excited about, but had been narrowly left out of the original shortlist.
  6. Holding / Commissioning; we commissioned the writers of shortl
    isted submissions to produce outlines. In a few cases, we paid writers a holding fee in exchange for them withholding the idea from further development for a period of time; this was mostly for ideas we felt fit better as part of a different slate or would benefit from us improving our production pipeline before beginning work.
  7. Outline Selection; in deciding which outlines we wanted to commission into scripts, we again used the principles established in our pitch shortlisting phase. We tried to build a balanced slate (both in terms of genres and writers) and to ensure that balance by adding extra work to the slate, rather than removing work from it.

What worked?

After over a hundred submissions, months of discussions, and a heck of a lot of reading, we have now commissioned seven New Adventures that we are super excited to share in the coming months! We’re also very proud of some other outcomes of this process:

  • We have a great, varied slate of ideas ranging from modern-day romance stories, through historical epics, to far-flung future conspiracies. The quality and variety of storytelling on offer to Zombies, Run! players is in great hands.
  • Our seven writers are from diverse communities of gender, sexuality and ethnicity. We’re really excited to be bringing such a wide variety of perspectives and ideas into our team.
  • This will be the first time the majority of our writers have written for games. We can’t wait to introduce the games world to such great talent!
  • We gave helpful, actionable, and (hopefully!) kind rejections to writers who we didn’t bring forward from the outline stage.
  • We feel the process was humane to both our staff and the writers who came through it. No-one at Six to Start faced an undue amount of work to make the commissioning process a success, and we hope the writers we’ve worked with agree we worked hard to remove as much anxiety and unnecessary work from the process as possible.

What Can We Do Better?

This was our first time running a commissioning process of this scale, and we had to learn almost everything on the fly. We hope we have, at least, avoided causing harm to anyone in the process, but we’re certain there are areas to improve on.

If you have thoughts on what we might be able to do better, or how we can meet the goals listed below, please do email hello@sixtostart.com with the subject New Adventures Improvements. Here are some things we know we need to improve, and what we’re currently planning to do about them:

  • We want to see more submissions from people of colour and from a broader array of backgrounds. We will:
    • Be more proactive to advertise our open call in spaces for those communities from whom we want to see more submissions.
    • Be more transparent about our process and about the team carrying it out to ensure we’re accountable for what we’re doing, and that people can be confident they’re not entering a harmful process by submitting to us.
    • Reach out directly to writers whose work we like and request that they pitch us.
  • We want to see more submissions from early career writers. We will:
    • Advertise our open call in more casual spaces online; social media communities for early career writers, fandom communities, etc.
    • Give more explicit and robust guidelines for submission; e.g. avoid assuming knowledge on how to format dialogue.
    • Create a separate submission track for developing new writers, with guaranteed spots that are reserved for early-career writers. This track will come with more guidance and more hands-on advice throughout the process.
  • We want to continue to make the process easier and more transparent, to remove unnecessary labour and anxiety, and to promote fairness. We will:
    • Update our standard contracts to include changes negotiated by agents and unions in the current round of commissioning. Not all of our writers – especially those who are early in their careers – have access to legal advice, and we want to ensure they aren’t disadvantaged as a result.
    • Provide clearer guidelines, including examples of our best practices.
    • Provide templates to help with formatting.

New Adventures: Commissioning Again Soon

We’re really pleased with how this round of commissioning has gone, and we’re excited to share the results soon. We’re opening submissions again in the next few months as we continue to build our slate for 2021 and beyond. Follow @sixtostart on Twitter so you don’t miss out!

In the meantime, please do drop us a line with your thoughts on the process, especially to let us know where we can improve. We’re committed to ensuring we use the platform we’ve been granted as responsibly as possible, and that starts with being completely open to advice and criticism.

– Matt (@gamecat) and the New Adventures Team.

We’re joining the Global Climate Strike on September 20th

On Friday September 20th, Six to Start will be carrying out a company-wide strike action in support of the Global Climate Strike. During this time, we will not be responding to any support tickets, social media messages, or other contacts, and will not be carrying out any work.

The climate crisis we’re facing is an existential threat to our species, and to life on this planet. We at Six to Start feel strongly that it’s our responsibility to do whatever we can to meet this threat. By striking, we hope to add our voices to the calls for immediate and effective climate action, and to encourage others to do the same.

In our work, we spend a lot of time thinking about global catastrophe, and about humanity’s response to such events. We’re proud to present fictional worlds in which disaster is met with solidarity, with kindness, and with hope. The stories we tell reflect in part our belief that we are strongest when we act together, and that belief informs our decision to strike.

We encourage everyone reading this post to join us in striking on September 20th.

Help us test Zombies, Run! 5k Training

Do you want to help us make our Couch to 5k Training app the very best it can be? Now you can – we’re opening our Beta Testing program up to Android users.

Follow the instructions below to join the Beta Test and gain access to the latest features and updates before anyone else. Be aware – you might encounter more problems with the app when using the Beta version, as we’re still testing it out.

What is Zombies, Run! 5k Training?

Zombies, Run! 5k Training is an 8-week training program and audio adventure for beginners that’ll improve your fitness so you can run a 5km distance.

We give you clear and detailed instructions about when to walk, jog, run and stretch, building up your confidence and stamina over 25 workouts – combined with a gripping story delivered straight to your headphones.

Test the Latest Features on Android

Find Zombies, Run! 5k Training on the Google Play Store, and click the link to enter the Open Beta programme. The latest release features:

- Android 9 and Q compatibility
- Workout timing corrections
- Stopping a run from a notification now opens a confirmation popup
- Updated credits

Help us test The Walk!

Do you want to help us make our sister app, The Walk, the very best it can be? Now you can – we’re opening our Beta Testing program up to iOS and Android users.

Follow the instructions below to join the Beta Test on your platform and gain access to the latest features and updates before anyone else. Be aware – you might encounter more problems with the app when using the Beta version, as we’re still testing it out.

What’s The Walk?

Created with the NHS and the UK’s Department of Health, The Walk helps you walk more, every single day. When you’re playing The Walk, every step counts.

A bomb explodes in Inverness station, and you’re given a package that could save the world. To stay alive, you’ll need to walk the length of the UK. The Walk is more than just a great pedometer/step counter — it’s a way to turn walking into a journey, a challenge, and a rip-roaring adventure.

iPhone

To join the Beta Testing group for The Walk, follow the instructions at this link.

Android

Find The Walk on the Google Play Store, and click the link to enter the Open Beta programme.

Season 8 Mission 15: Far Hebrides Map (Spoilers!)

This Season, we’re taking you on an adventure to the distant Far Hebrides archipelago in Scotland, where you’ll encounter a whole host of new friends – and enemies. To make your journey even richer, we’ll be publishing a map of the Far Hebrides, which will expand and gain detail as we progress through the series.

Today’s excerpt from the map features spoilers from the first 15 missions of Season 8, up to and including “Codified Likeness Utility”. Be Warned!

Stay Safe Out There!

S8 M15 Released and Hiatus Begins

We’re leaving you hanging off this icy cliff with the final Season 8 mission for now, Codified Likeness Utility.

You can download this mission right now from the ‘Missions’ tab. If you’re a Pro Member, you can download and play the mission immediately. Otherwise, you can use your free weekly unlock. Let us know what you think of the season so far on our social media!

We are neck deep in preparations for the second half of this chilling season. After our hiatus, you’ll start seeing new missions around mid August.

Meanwhile… we have something really special coming later this month: Venus Rising, an epic five-part New Adventure by Naomi Alderman and Elliot Gresswell.

Soon, you’ll discover some mysteries were never meant to be solved…

Season 8 Mission 14: Far Hebrides Map (Spoilers!)

This Season, we’re taking you on an adventure to the distant Far Hebrides archipelago in Scotland, where you’ll encounter a whole host of new friends – and enemies. To make your journey even richer, we’ll be publishing a map of the Far Hebrides, which will expand and gain detail as we progress through the series.

Today’s excerpt from the map features spoilers from the first 14 missions of Season 8, up to and including “Best Laid Plans”. Be Warned!

Stay Safe Out There!

Scheduled Maintenance Notice

We will be having scheduled downtime on our services over the next week. This includes our Content Distribution System, Zombielink, Rofflenet, and Racelink. Here are the likely impacts:

Rofflenet will be unavailable on Thursday 27th June from 11pm UK time (6pm EDT). It may be down overnight.

We will be switching Rofflenet to Read Only mode from 9pm UK time on the 27th to ensure that no data is lost. During this time, you will be able to read posts, but will be unable to make new posts or comments.

Our Content Distribution System will be unavailable for a period beginning 2am UK Time on Friday 28th June, and again from 11pm UK time . You may be unable to download new missions during the outage, and the service may be down overnight. This outage may also affect your ability to receive automated emails triggered by your progress through the game.

Our ZombieLink API will be unavailable for a period beginning 11pm on Tuesday 2nd July, and likely extending overnight. You will not be able to sync data to or from ZombieLink during that time.

Timeline

All times listed below are in UK time.

  • Thursday 27th June @ 9pm: Rofflenet switches to Read Only Mode
  • Thursday 27th June @ 11pm: Rofflenet maintenance begins
  • Friday 28th June @ 2am: 1st Content Distribution System maintenance begins
  • Friday 28th June @ 11pm: 2nd Content Distribution System maintenance begins
  • Tuesday 2nd July @ 11pm: ZombieLink API maintenance begins

Season 8 Mission 12: Far Hebrides Map (Spoilers!)

This Season, we’re taking you on an adventure to the distant Far Hebrides archipelago in Scotland, where you’ll encounter a whole host of new friends – and enemies. To make your journey even richer, we’ll be publishing a map of the Far Hebrides, which will expand and gain detail as we progress through the series.

Today’s excerpt from the map features spoilers from the first 12 missions of Season 8, up to and including “Poison Whiskey”. Be Warned!

Stay Safe Out There!