The Luck of the Dead
Youngstown State University’s Urban Gaming Club has invited university students from across Ohio, Indiana and Pennsylvania to participate in their first Humans versus Zombies Invitational on April 11 and 12.
Tyler Matthews — who, as invitational chair, is in charge of organizing the event and contacting other universities — said they are hoping for between 75 to 100 players.
“We have confirmed people from Ohio University, Bowling Green, Muskingum [University], Mercyhurst [College], and we are really hoping we are going to see players from Penn State, Pitt; there is at least one guy coming from Ball State,” Matthews said. “There may be people coming in from as far as Purdue. Then other schools closer like Wooster and Akron.”
Matthews employed social media and email, as well as HvZ pages on other social networking services like Reddit and Imgur, to market the event.
Michael Thomas, president of the Urban Gaming club, said the group decided to plan their own invitational near the beginning of the school year.
“It came from the fact that for years we have gone to other schools to take part in their invitational,” Thomas said. “We have talked for a while, ‘you know it would be cool if we did an invitational.’ This year we decided we would go for it and we would have it in the Spring semester so we would have most of the school year to plan for it.”
Interested students can sign up through the YSU HVZ Spring Invitational Facebook page.
Humans versus Zombies is a moderated game of tag that has been sweeping across college campuses nation-wide. The human faction defends against zombies, whose goals is to tag humans and zombify them, with Nerf blasters, socks and blow pipes.
An invitational is typically a massive single day event complete with hundreds of players, a story line, special zombies and missions for both humans and zombies to participate in.
“The interesting thing with an invitational is how do you ‘kill’ a hundred people in 24 hours? So you have to think about how to differently design missions, what the time frame looks like, how hard you want to make it,” Matthews said.
Each school attempts to give their invitational its own unique feel with unique story, structure, mechanics and missions — while making the game remain exciting and smooth.
“One of the benefits of being the last invitational of the season is we can kind of adjust based on what we have heard other players saying what they do like and what they don’t like, and really try to take the best of all the worlds we have seen and put them all together,” Matthews said.
One instance of the group putting their own unique spin on the game is zombies will be given missions, instead of simply being tasked with hampering human progress.
“We have found that a lot of games lack in the fact that humans are given mission objectives, and the zombies’ only objective is to kill humans. Sometimes that can be a little slow and boring for the zombies, so we have started creating things like scavenger hunts for the zombies,” Thomas said.
Though some of the rules and missions of the invitational are still being finalized, the club has chosen an Irish theme and will be using members’ favorite missions from their week-longs to make a “greatest hits” game.
“We had originally planned to do our invitational the week after St. Patrick’s Day,” Matthews said. “Then we found out that Bowling Green was hosting their own invitational that weekend. So we pushed it back, but we didn’t want to change the theme because we thought it was funny.”
The story of the invitational pulls from Irish mythology. The main antagonist is The Dagda, a prominent god of the Irish mythological cycle who yielded the power of resurrection in the handle of his enchanted club, and his magic cauldron — the Undry.
“We kind of tweaked the story to say that there was a resistance when people stopped praising Dagda; there was a war and Druids used their magic to banish him to his own cauldron,” Matthews said.
Matthews and Thomas said their characters found the cauldron in Youngstown’s Goodwill and brought it to a St. Patrick’s Day party to serve beer from. When Thomas’s character became a bit too intoxicated and threw up into the cauldron, Dagda’s disembodied spirit returned.
“From there, the entire premise of the game is Dagda has started summoning zombies to do his work to resurrect him,” Matthews said. “So the whole time, the zombies are running around finding these ancient relics. There are flags; there are spells they have to find on scrolls; there are resurrection stones. They [humans] have to find them and take them away from the zombies.”
The invitational will also utilize Irish-themed special zombies to pose an additional threat to the human players, as well as non-player characters to assist and guide humans.
“The Banshee is a remake of the zombie we use in the fall week-long, called the photophobe. It is a light sensitive zombie; it can’t be killed. The humans have to figure how it works to defend themselves from it. The Leprechaun is an original idea we’ve come up with. … He has the ability to give zombies a shorter respawn time after they complete certain objectives,” Matthews said. “Other schools will throw them [specialty zombies] in during emergency situations to even the tides — if they need to kill more humans quickly. We do it to just scare our players. We do it as more of a psychological thing. They are part of the story.”
The invitational will end when the zombies win their war of attrition and the humans all die, or if human players meet the win condition.
“We are really hoping that invitational players have a chance to make it to the final stand. We always structure it so that the humans have a chance to win. There is always a possibility of human survivors. So far, it has never happened; we kind of find it funny. It is fun for us to watch them suffer, as administrators,” Matthews said.