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Patient 0: Hunting zombies IRL

Leon Saw

Mon Aug 12 2013


WHAT would you do when confronted with flesh-eating zombies? How would you react? Leon Saw speaks with some of the brains behind IRL Shooter’s “real life live action” zombie hunting game Patient 0, who grappled with those questions.

A contagious virus that animates dead people and mutates them into flesh-eating zombies has infected a local medical facility. Authorities have locked it down and have contracted you and your squad of private security personnel to enter and terminate the threats within with extreme prejudice.

As you navigate the facility’s darkened and silent corridors, grisly and grotesque sights greet you at every turn. In one room, bloody and broken corpses suspended from the ceiling like meat at an abattoir grimace painfully at you, their final moments of torment forever etched on their faces. In an adjacent one, dead foetuses in jars of clear fluid line rows of shelves, their eyes wide open seemingly tracking your every move.

You’re not unarmed – as you cradle a standard-issue assault rifle, its bulk and weight is reassuring. However, nothing can truly prepare you for your first encounter with the zombie horde. They charge at you, howling and screeching indiscriminately the instant they detect your presence, as you and your squad desperately take up firing positions to rain hot, metallic death upon the onrushing monstrosities.

It reads like a video game or a scene from the latest zombie flick, but it isn’t. It’s actually Patient 0, a first-of-its-kind “real life live action” game by Melbourne-based IRL Shooter. In a video game, players control their avatars or characters via gamepads or keyboards and mice. At the cinemas, movie watchers passively consume the onscreen entertainment. In Patient 0, the players are the characters. They actually lug hefty replicas of automatic weapons, run around in an abandoned 12,000 square meter warehouse, its interior retrofitted to feel like a derelict hospital, and shoot at actors in appropriately frightful costumes and makeup playing zombies. Think of it as laser tag in a zombie apocalypse setting.

The concept for Patient 0 was conceived early last year before money for the project was sought via crowdfunding platform Pozible. IRL Shooter was only after $10,000 but it ended up with almost $250,000, making their crowd funding campaign the most successful one on the platform. The company then ran Patient 0 games in Melbourne for a period of three months, putting more than 6,200 people through the scenario.

Although Patient 0’s initial run in Melbourne was a success, developing the game was by no means straightforward. Patient 0 was an unprecedented game, which allowed players much more freedom than in video games. Hence, expertise in anticipating and managing players’ behaviour while they were in the game was needed. That expertise came in the form of Swinburne University of Technology Senior Lecturer in Games & Interactivity Dr Steven Conway.

“(The Patient 0 developers) were quite forward thinking, they were very smart about it, they knew they had all of this expertise in terms of designing characters, the film background, special effects, they had all of that down,” says Dr Conway.

“It was just they were a bit unsure about what happens in terms of the player’s experience, in terms of play, so they actually contacted me very early on.”

Dr Conway “loved the idea” and brought a few of his colleagues, as well as Swinburne University of Technology PhD sociology researcher Leigh Klaver on board.

“We went over to the location and started to design from the ground up how the game would play rather than how it would look,” says Dr Conway.

“They were all experts at how it would look, how it would feel, but how it would play – that was our role.”

Dr Conway also advised the Patient 0 developers about “ways of understanding the player”.

“Don’t think of it like a theme park ride, think of it like a dungeon where you need a dungeon master,” he says.

That dungeon master turned out to be Mr Klaver.

Mr Klaver’s PhD is focused on sociology, psychology and basically around player behaviour, so he tries to understand the motivations behind different players.

“Let’s say we have a big set piece, some people will be scared, some people will be gung-ho and just run in and want to shoot everything, some people want to strategise, some people want to try and figure out the environment,” he explains.

“You cannot predict exactly what each one is going to do, but what you can do is create design elements so that you can guide them towards (the game’s objectives).”

However, rather than “trying to tell (players), force them or push them as to what to do”, Mr Klaver tries to “let them find their own way but give them markers”.

“The whole idea is to try and make them invisible,” he says.

And creating such invisible design elements were challenging.

“You’re talking about a 12,000 square meter facility, over 6,000 players, so managing that, you cannot just create a system and say, ‘Alright, in you go,’ and then expect it like they’re isolated and they’ll do everything you say and that’s the end of it,” says Mr Klaver.

“They want to be immersed in the game, feel like they’re a part of a the game universe, but this also means that they’ll push the boundaries of your design. Designing the game you have to guide the player without their knowing it; they’re constrained by the design but if it’s done well they’ll never realise it, they’ll feel like they’re free to do as they please.”

Although IRL Shooter’s Patient 0 is no longer playable in Melbourne, the company is looking to set up another game with a brand new story line in another Australian city in the near future.

For more information about IRL Shooter’s Patient 0, visit