Friday, December 05, 2014

Review of the Zombies Run! App for Android

I’ve always had a very active imagination; little movie scripts going off in my head while I’m doing, seemingly, mundane things.  Like... well... let’s just say that the world inside my head is a whole lot more interesting than the actual world.

I’m also a runner.  I’ve been running since 2008 in response to my doctor telling me that I had to do something to stave off death after taking a look at my family’s dismal health history and responding with, “They didn’t give you a lot to work with, did they.”  Coincidentally, my boss decided that it would be a great team building experience for all of us to run the Ragnar Wasatch Back Relay.  So, I started running, and have kept it up in various degrees for the last 6 years.

But with winter coming on, I was thinking and reading about ways to stay motivated and running through this winter because my miles always seem to drop when the temperature does, and so I was reading an article on my brand new Galaxy S4, (I know that the S5 is out… it’s a long story that requires the word “Amish” to properly tell) when I read about a running app called Zombies Run! for the iOS.  It was accompanied by this YouTube video.

After watching their film… I had to have this app!  They had to have it for Android right? Well after checking the Play Store, I found it: Zombies Run! 3 for Android.  It's a little spendy for an app, but way less than some of the video games I've purchased for my kids.

So, a couple of weeks ago, I tried it.  "Season 1, Episode 1, Jolly Alpha Five Niner."  It was a Saturday morning, and since I didn’t have an arm band for my phone, I put it in the front pocket of my running jacket.  This goofed up my actual running time shown in the app, but since I still wear my trusty Garmin 405, I was covered as far as stats and splits go.  The story was engaging, placing you (me) in the roll of “Runner 5,” a soldier(?) from a nearby military base on loan to a small settlement known as Abel Township in the midst of the Zombie Apocalypse, and as a member of Abel, you are assigned as one of 20 runners who do everything from rescue missions, supply foraging, or on occasion, you strap sound generators to your back in order to lure zombies (or “zoms” in the game) away from Abel.

But Zombies Run! is more than just a radio play that you listen to while running, it’s a game. It's the ultimate Virtual Reality game that requires no pod, goggles, or special equipment; it literally requires the app, a phone, some ear-buds, & your own imagination.  In order to play, you simply run while the app tells you where you are, what you’re doing, and what character you are playing (always Runner 5, the non-gender specific protagonist in the story).  Similar to games like Super Mario and such, you are able to pick up items by running over them: a tin of food, a box of ammo, cans of fuel, and also the strangely listed Sports Bras, underpants, and Kensaido Manifestos (I currently have 8 of these).  Obviously, these things are rarely physically lying in the street for you to pick up, but the game gives you an audio cue while you run to let you know what you’ve collected.  These items can then be used to build up your “Base” just like you would in “Farmville” or other Facebook type games.  This is a part of the game that I’m not really keen on… but I'm still building a base (I just need a few more things in order to upgrade my housing).

This is a screen shot from someone else's game,
I'm kind of an idiot when it comes to working my own phone
and couldn't figure out how to do a screen shot.

One of the other cool things about the way the app works is that it pulls in your play list from your Android music player, in my case, I told it to use my running play list.  Which, as I found just didn’t suit the situation for me, so I had to rebuild a playlist from scratch using Movie Soundtracks, and such so that I would have my own little zombie soundtrack.  It just didn’t work for me to have Sam, my fictional radio operator, tell me that there is a mob of 30 zoms on my tail just to have “Funky Town” pump into my ears a second later.  You know what I’m saying?

And so, my Zombie playlist tends to have quite a bit of the “Tron Legacy” soundtrack, along with some Imagine Dragons, Oingo Boingo, Metric, and “We Hate You, Please Die” by Crash and the Boys, stuff that makes it easy for me to imagine myself in a movie with my own soundtrack (This is where the game gets really fun for me).  While we're on the subject of playlists, the app does seem to have a problem.  I have 22 songs in my zombie play list right now, but the app seems to want to play only 9 of them... over and over and over again.  Sometimes it plays the same song twice in the same mission.  I'm not sure how to fix it, but I have a feeling that the shuffle setting in Zombies Run! is interfering with the shuffle setting in my Android Player.  More goofing around with my settings may still be required to fix it.

One aspect I really, really like about the app is the “Chases On” setting (or chase mode), that functions much like interval training.  What it does is in the middle of your music from time to time, you’ll hear “Zombies behind you at 100 meters.”  That’s your cue to pick up the pace by 20%.  What I found is that I really have to get moving, almost to my BQ pace of 7:30 per mile.

The first time this went off I was just rounding a park in my neighborhood, and I heard the warning.  So, I picked up my pace.  I figured that I was going fast enough, but then I heard “Warning, Zombies at 74 meters.”  I thought that there was no way they could be gaining, so I stepped it up a bit more.  “Warning, Zombies at 58 meters.”  Wow, I was sprinting at this point, but I poured on a bit more, and was finally able to evade the zombies, but I really had to move to do that.  Now, if they catch you, you don’t die, you just lose everything you have in your inventory.  But still.

The really cool thing about this is that I’ve been trying to cut my pace from the snail like pace of 11:20 to 10:00 and this app is helping me do it.  Last night, with chases on, I finally broke the 11:00 average pace mark for the first time since I was in marathon training almost 2 years ago.

Also a screen shot from someone else who obviously
does not have a playlist because my run logs
list what songs were playing after the voice transmissions.

There are a couple of issues that I hope they fix in future versions.  Firstly, when I first got the app, there were a couple of false starts while I was trying to figure out how to work the thing.  Those false starts registered as runs, and there is no way to delete them from the running log.

The other thing is this.  You can set the missions to go 30 minutes or an hour.  I usually run about 45 to 50 minutes and so I have the missions set for 30 minutes.  When the mission is finished, the app switches over to "Radio Mode" where two disk-jockey types do a kind of morning show broadcast out of Abel Township, while playing songs from your playlist.  I'm not a fan of this part of the app because it tends to take me out of the mood that has been building over the last half hour.  What I think that they should have done was made up a bunch of radio transmissions from other runners and operators so that you still have the feeling of being outside the fence and running for your life.

But really, those are my only complaints.

I guess I better do the legal... This review is my opinion and mine alone.  I was not paid in any way by Six to Start (the creators of the Zombies Run! app.).

Thank You

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