Interview: Zombies, Run! creator Adrian Hon

Interview: Zombies, Run! creator Adrian Hon

Game designer to give talk at Museum Lates: Game Masters edition

If you’re a runner with a smartphone, a tech geek or just a zombie fanboy/girl, chances are you’ve come across the wildly successful fitness app disguised as a game (and vice versa) Zombies, Run!. The game's co-creator and CEO of Six To Start, Adrian Hon, is presenting a talk entitled ‘Games that Move You’ at Museum Lates: Game Masters, Fri 13 Feb.

In 2001, at the tender age of 17, Hon gave a presentation on human colonisation of Mars at a TED Talk in Monterey, before it was cool to get ridiculously young people on the TED stage previously reserved for more 'traditional' big thinkers. Since then, the rather prolific Hon has founded his own game design company, written extensively about technology for The Telegraph and his own amusement, documented The History of the Future in 100 Objects, launched Zombies, Run! (which has sold more than one million copies worldwide), and general amassed a portfolio of projects that make the rest of us look slightly lazy.

We caught up the writer/game producer/futurist to find out more...

What's the idea behind your Game Masters talk?

I had three different ideas and one of them was about the things we make at Six To Start – Zombies, Run!, fitness games, games that physically move you. I talk about that a lot and sometimes it’s fun to talk about other stuff, so I wanted to take a different angle: games that make you cry or happy or that kind of thing.

Are there games you have in mind that fit that criteria particularly well?

In terms of ‘literally’, there’s the games we make like Zombies, Run!, which has been fantastically successful and it’s nice as a game designer to make a game that makes people healthier. Which is not to say that all games should be good for you, I’d say most of my games are mostly for entertainment.

From a metaphorical point of view, there’s a couple of games recently. For example, The Walking Dead, which contrary to what you might expect is not about blowing away zombies, it’s more about making moral decisions. In the first season, you’re a man who has to take care of this little girl who has also survived the zombie apocalypse, and it is just irredeemably sad throughout the six episodes. Such a good example of how you can make people feel by playing a game.

And then there’s another game which is also in the [Game Masters] exhibit, Journey by this Californian company. It’s quite an unusual one in that there’s no dialogue, it’s a game about a pilgrimage. It’s beautifully designed, great music and is trying to echo religious imagery. Also just adventure games in general. If it’s a good story, I often find they can really move me.

A new season of Zombies, Run! is out soon – how has the game evolved since you launched following your hugely successful Kickstarter campaign?

Yes, season four is coming out in April and it’s crazy to think that. I just met up with our head writer [Naomi Alderman] yesterday and I remember when we started making it she asked me how long I thought the story could be. I said three seasons seemed like a good run, maybe three seasons with 20 missions each. What we’ve already done is three seasons with 60 missions each.

It’s grown much bigger in terms of content and that is really in response to what the players want. They enjoy running to it and they want more stories and we like doing that, we have a lot more ideas in us. It’s also grown in terms of features and in terms of stability. When we started out it was pretty basic, it was just the story missions. Now over the years we’ve added interval training, airdrop mode (where you can find someone in the real world), radio mode, base missions, side missions, and there's more things we’re adding for season four. It’s become this sort of, and I want a better word for it, but it’s become this sort of brand. We sell t-shirts for it!

My hope this year is to massively expand the community. We’ve sold a million copies, which is fantastic, but of course we want more. And we want more people to play the game. It makes more things possible, and by that I mean races and other things that allow us to reach that critical mass.

Have you considered Zombies, Run! spin-offs or going multiplatform?

We have so many ideas for a Zombies, Run! spin-off, and some are pretty good. They range from other fitness games – where Runner 5 is doing different kinds of exercises, cycling, weightlifting – to different kinds of games in the Zombies, Run! universe, an action or strategy game. Or taking the model of this kind of game – audio adventure/drama while you exercise – and extending that across different IPs. We always get asked to make Doctor Who, Run, that would be nice.

The Game Masters exhibition celebrates the history of gaming going back to arcade games of the 70s and through to present day indie game designers. Have you had a chance to see it yourself?

I have. My girlfriend works at the museum as an Egyptologist and so I was up last weekend.

Did it inspire recollections of your own early gaming experiences?

It was nice because I recognised so many of the games. I’m 32, so I didn’t play those early arcade games, but I do enjoy them. The stuff I recognised was Day of the Tentacle, Monkey Island, Sim City, Populous – I was into those strategy and God games.

You’ve talked previously about how much media you consume, but you’re also a prolific producer, writing for The Telegraph, blogging and writing your book (A History of the Future in 100 Objects): how do you manage it all?

It’s too much actually. That might sound ridiculous but it is too much. I have a bunch of websites and RSS feeds, even though people don’t use RSS feeds any more. It’s a combination of tech and culture stuff, aggregation sites, economics websites. I follow a lot of blogs, and what those blogs do is link to a lot of other interesting articles. I push longer articles to Instapaper. I think I read 60-80,000 words a day of articles. I don’t actually think that’s a good way to consume information, I feel like it’s going in one end and coming straight out the other. I need to be a bit more discerning.

In that case, can we get some recommendations from you?

3 websites to read to make you smarter...

MetaFilter, Marginal Revolution and The New York Times.

3 games that will expand your mind...

Journey, Civilisation and Braid.

3 apps that will make your life better...

Instapaper, Overcast and 1Password

3 podcasts you couldn’t live without...

Snap Judgement, Harmontown and In Our Time.

Adrian Hon appears at Museum Lates: Game Masters, National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh, Fri 13 Feb.

Museum Lates: Monkey Business

A chance to immerse yourself in the world of primates at this special late night museum session. Hosted by Vic Galloway with live music from WHITE and Vegan Leather. Plus games, a silent disco, bingo and monkey experts.