Sunday, 25 March 2012

Thoughts on the mobile-fiction genre

‘Detective Saunders?’ the woman asks as you answer the phone.

‘It’s my sister, Meryl. She’s gone missing. I need your help.’

After stumbling across Zombies, Run, the running-slash-fiction app, a few week’s ago, I’ve been giving some thought to the mobile-fiction genre. It's got me all excitable.

Zombies, Run offered you an interactive experience. And it was brilliant; you ran, the story progressed. Since then, I’ve been ruminating on where the genre can go next; what other fiction experiences can you offer with just a phone, a GPS signal and a bucket load of cash?

And this is what I’ve come up with. Any notes are in brackets.

The app puts you in the shoes of Detectie Saunders, a hard-boiled investigator. You haven’t had a case for weeks. And then the phone rings.

(The Heist, a simple iPhone app, offers the same sort of feature. During the game, you ‘get a call’ from a thief named Sophia. It’s automated, but adds a nice experience to a fairly standard puzzle game).

The woman on the phone offers you a case. Her sister, a fairly prominent socialite, has gone missing. You, Detective Saunders, must find her.

The sister was last seen in a museum. As you walk towards the museum to hunt for clues, your phone rings. It’s an old partner of yours. He has a new case for you.

(Detectives always have two cases on)

You put it out of your mind. Enter the museum. Pull out your phone and inform the client that you have arrived.

(via a Foursquare check in)

The game informs you that you have found a clue; a box of matches on the floor with an address of a bar, close to the museum, scrawled on the side. You check into the bar, redeem the 50% off cocktails voucher exclusive to the app, and receive another clue and another location. Meet a contact in the park by 3pm.

(Of course, you wouldn't actually be meeting anyone, although I like the idea of a time-sensitive user action)

‘I had no idea what I was getting myself into,’ gruffly narrates Saunders as you walk to the next location.

The case is on.

And that’s about all I’ve got. Again, I’m just throwing ideas to the wall and seeing what sticks, so I haven’t considered the technical and practical implications. On reflection, it's probably a bit too complicated for your average user. Still, it's always fun imagining what could be.

And really, I just want someone to build this so I can pretend to own a detective agency.

Sunday, 11 March 2012

Zombies, Run! iPhone app - you've got red on you

I run. At best, it’s a chore. At worst, a bore; a necessary and thankless task which gets in the way of much more entertaining pursuits. Like cake. Still, Much Smarter People have explained that exercise is good for me and I’ve been advised that a regular jog will help stave off heart disease, obesity and that rattling sound which starts up in my chest after a few flights of stairs.

Previously, I’ve used the Nike+ app to keep track of my meager progress; a swish, if slightly soulless programme which charts your run via GPS. It’s efficient, intuitive and, if you’re a serious runner, a comprehensive bit of kit. But it’s no fun. Or, at least, not as much fun as being chased down the street by a mob of shambling zombies.

Zombies, Run! is an app for the iPhone which provides a more interactive experience while you run; a piece of software which offers an innovative blend of exercise and storytelling.

It’s the end of the world. Zombies have run riot and humanity hangs on a thread. You’re no longer running for your health or well-being. You’re running because it’s your job to keep people alive.

The app sees you play the part of Runner Five, a member of a small colony clinging onto existence by its fingertips. Like other apps on the market, you load Zombies, Run! as soon as you take your first steps out into the cold. That’s pretty much where the similarities with other running apps end.

Each bout of exercise takes the form of a ‘mission’, a story which plays out while you jog. The tale progresses via dialogue from the various characters in this dystopian world; a nervous radio operator in the settlement, fellow runners and other survivors you find along the way. There’s a clip from one of the earlier missions embedded below.

Each episode sets you up with a premise (collect supplies, rescue a stranded child, lead away a pack of zombies) and clips progressing the narrative slip in between your traditional running playlist. Each mission last around 20 minutes and, occasionally, you’ll be asked to pick up the pace as a zombie stumbles into your path. As a motivational tool, running for your virtual life is without par.

But, in order to progress the narrative you'll have to go out running again. And you’ll want to. Unlike other apps, Zombies, Run! gives you a tangible reward for your lap of the block; the story progresses, characters reveal their motives, a shady conspiracy is revealed. It’s a unique way to get you back into your running trainers.

Of course, it’s not the only app on the market to dish out rewards for a successful burst of speed. The aforementioned Nike+ is a solid piece of work which has some nice social media integration (including Path) and also includes motivational audio clips from the likes of Lance Armstrong and Paula Radcliffe. Get Running and the British Military Fitness App also provide the same feature, albeit without the celebrity cameos.

Still, what makes Zombies, Run! interesting is that it rewards you in a different way. Rather than just giving you a pat on the back at the end of a jog, the app provides you a real incentive to get back onto the streets. It’s a testament to the strength of the story and the textured characters that you’ll want to continue exercising just to hear the next chapter in the tale.

They're coming to get you Barbara.