This article is not a primer on Humans versus Zombies. Check the HvZ Athens website to read about the game and rules. To see what HvZ is all about, check out some gameplay in the video at the bottom of the article.
“Popping balloons in a parking garage sounds alot like gunshots,” recalls Humans vs. Zombies Athens moderator Ben Weibel. “They were loud … and then the cops showed up.”
Even intense planning breaks down in practice. The moderators of HvZ Athens can attest to that. Over the past years, the unpredictable nature of the 24/7 urban game experience has led to a few hiccups.
The aforementioned debacle involved popping balloons as an objective during a mission on the campus of Ohio University. During planning, it seemed a novel idea to the moderators who organize the game.
“We can’t test a mission designed for hundreds of people,” said Weibel. “We were able to salvage it well considering all those things.”
To address some of the issues with the program, HvZ Athens hosted an open forum Feb. 9. Dedicated members of the community showed up to voice their opinions and listen to what the mods had to say.
HvZ has generally hosted week-long fall and spring games, with the recent addition of weekend invitationals before the former.
That’s all about to change. In an “unfortunate announcement” the mods outlined the new schedule. After this upcoming spring’s week-long game (March 26 through April 2), the fall game will be the sole extended session. To replace the spring game, HvZ Athens will host their invitational in the same time frame.
The amount of ingenuity and organization required to herd hundreds of players around a campus while providing entertainment is staggering. Planning for the spring game began weeks before the forum, and a reported six months of planning is standard for the invitational.
The schedule change is intended to allow for more planning time and thus a better game experience. This is to address the apparent sentiment that the fall game in recent years has seemed “more disorganized” and “lackluster,” according to player feedback.
Players also discussed the idea of underage — or not college age — participants in the game. Ohio University’s HvZ is the only of the programs in the country to allow non-students to play. In the past, this has led to complications based on lack of accountability. OU does not require any player to register, unlike other schools. The mods called on the community to monitor and reach out to young players and parents. A possible, strict option would be to enforce an age minimum.
The community also chimed in to encourage that the mods emphasize helpful ideas such as labelling equipment to avoid losses and theft. Unfortunately, other obstacles to smooth gameplay are harder to address. Encouraging players to participate in HvZ 24/7 has always been an issue.
Human players feel they have more to lose and are nervous to play between classes. To some participants, this tension is what makes the game. “It’s a matter of individual initiative,” said moderator Conor Morris. “We don’t want to shame anyone, but call your friends out if they aren’t playing.”
As with the forum, HvZ survives based on player participation. This places pressure on mods to not get just the nuts and bolts right but provide engaging narrative. The last few games emulated themes from Indiana Jones, Back to the Future and Men in Black among other films.
“We’ve run quite a few silly games” said Weibel. “It’s a lot more fun for [the moderators].”
It helps to borrow, as existing plot lines provide fodder for amusingly nerdy references. Still, the moderators acknowledge that along with the gameplay, the story must evolve and avoid becoming stale.
“We’re all nerds,” said Weibel. “[The moderators] are always trying to add new elements.”
As an added surprise to close the forum, Weibel debuted a video created from gameplay footage taken during the 2012 fall invitational.