Above: My squad, at Sydney Showground, pre-game. Fresh faced and optimistic. (I’m second from the left, in the beige-colored trousers). I made the Nerf Gun holsters out of cardboard and duct tape, following a YouTube video.
We have joined Red Team.
Above: Part of the crowd. We all face towards the stage, where “The Mayor” is explaining the rules. As the Mayor is talking, zombies emerge from backstage and attack the Mayor. Someone screams. All hell breaks loose. Take a look again at that crowd photo again. Now imagine nearly 1,000 people trying to escape that pavilion in a panic with zombies on our heels. It was a mad stampede.
Above: Just outside the pavilion a few moments later.
Above: Despite my best efforts, I have already become separated from my entire squad.
Above: After the chaos, I manage to link up with a couple of guys from my squad. We try to locate the Red Base.
Above: Red Base. This open-air amphitheater makes a fine, defensible base. Lookouts on the top tier have a good view of any approaching zombies or enemy soldiers. We have just captured one of the Yellow Teams leaders.
Above: Blue Team and Yellow Team leaders. Each leadership team has a table-map of the “city”. From here they deploy squads out on missions: Capture a point, scavenge fuel for the power plant, retrieve experimental anti-Z-serum, take prisoners or steal from enemy bases, reprisal attacks on enemy bases.
Some players become specialists. If you’re on a mission that requires an engineer, then you need to protect your engineer or the mission is a failure.
When Human Survivors fight each other, it’s a Nerf Gun battle. If you are hit, you are injured and out-of-combat, you must return to your Team Base to heal.
Zombies who are hit by Nerf Darts must also return to their Zombie Base to regenerate. Survivors who are touched by zombies are turned into zombies for the rest of the game.
Patient Zero is taken to the Yellow (Scientists) Team base for study. That ended just the way you assume it would end. Patient Zero is a Boss-Zombie who cannot be killed. When you see her, you run.
We first hear about Patient Zero on Zedtown Radio, which is broadcasting rumours live throughout the entire game. You listen-in on the Zedtown App on your phone. The app also allows you to receive orders from base, communicate with your squad, keep track of how many players are infected etc.
My favorite part of the game is the social dynamics that emerge among survivors. These weren’t formal “rules”, they just evolved naturally based on our situation. The “safer” half of the city (far from the Zombie Base) saw a lot of inter-faction fighting over precious resources. But as you got closer to the zombie infested part of the city, survivors from different factions stopped fighting each other and teamed up. You could feel the atmosphere change as you moved across the city.
Not Pictured: Even a visit to the bathroom is tense and cinematic. I try to avoid blind corners, and I am worried that a zombie might lurk in the bathroom as an ambush spot. I do that Hollywood thing, kicking the door open with my foot, gun ready. Then I tactically “clear” the bathroom stalls while my squad-mate stands watch outside. Halfway through my pee, I hear my squad-mate shout “Hurry Up Tony! We need to get out of here! Now, Now!”.
Above: No story here. I just loved the costume 🙂
Above: We drop by the Black Market. Coins are given out in-game by leaders and NPCs as a reward for completing missions. We can’t afford anything right now, but we’re hoping they might have some clues as to the location of Agent Fairchild. Red Leader has sent us looking for him (her?), but Fairchild remains elusive.
We survivors have guns, but the zombies must touch a human to infect them. So as long as the survivors stay disciplined and hold-the-line, they are (comparatively) safe. But when part of our group panics and runs, its every man for himself. This feels terrifically cinematic. As the horde approaches, you can feel the panic start to creep in. People are shouting, “Hold-The-Line! Hold-The-Line!”. It feels like a war movie.
At first, we maintain discipline. It looks like we are going to hold. But too many survivors on the left flank need to reload. The zombies smell weakness and surge. A small handful of people break and run. Like a herd of deer, animal instinct takes over, everyone panics and runs. Then the zombies feast.
Before the game, I imagined that the best part of the game would be the fiction of pretending to be a disciplined, professional soldier. Ruthless and steady under fire. But in those moments, no matter how cinematic and fun, I can’t forget that I am “playing soldier”.
Instead, it’s this moment when I am flanked, when blind animal panic sets in, that the game “feels real”.
Winston Churchill said “Nothing in life is so exhilarating as to be shot at without result.” I think I know what he means. There is so much adrenalin triggered by this make-believe brush with death. I can see how people could get hooked on real danger, no matter how perverse that seems.
Above: Moments before a Zombie gets me.
Red Base has been completely overrun by a Zombie Horde. We managed to evacuate with our Power Plant (that’s the big metal tank I’m pushing in this shot, I have my back to the camera). Our goal is to take the Power Plant and seek refuge in Blue Base. What I don’t know is that Blue Base has also been destroyed.
Above: That Roller Derby Zombie in the foreground is the one who tagged me. I never even saw her coming.
Above: Close-up of Roller Derby Zombie.
I am infected. I go to the Zombie Base. Here there is an army of makeup artists transforming survivors into zombies.
The original zombies received more elaborate stage makeup and prosthetics.
But they are doing a terrific job of mass producing zombies even by the time I arrive.
Above: Zombie Tony. The green headband marks me as a Zombie, the makeup is optional (but clearly, I’m not going to pass up this opportunity, its half the reason I’m here).
Above: Here I am with The Butcher (a Boss-Zombie). I don’t know what his official “in-fiction” name was, but we gave each of the Boss-Zombies a nickname. Example: “The Butcher is coming! Run!”
As a zombie, I must leave my guns and gear behind. Zombies can only infect survivors by touch. That means a lot of flanking, sneaking and running. Being a zombie turns out to be a lot more tactical than being a survivor. We are forced, by necessity, to co-ordinate our attacks. The Boss-Zombies are more organised than the survivor leaders.
It’s tough to tag survivors when they have guns and you don’t. There are a few go-to tactics. You can try hide-and-ambush. You can try overwhelming them in a big group (they need to reload eventually). Or you can lurk around one of the Boss-Zombies (who can’t be killed) and surprise the survivors while they are distracted.
The key is getting the survivors to panic. When even a small portion of the group panics and runs, the chaos creates lots of opportunities.
The game ends after 4 hours. 8 survivors manage to evacuate alive out of 800+
I am bone tired. 4 hours of adrenalin and running. I’m too old for this.