LARP design and the problem with geography

We’ve been running Zombie for more than five years now. We don’t really know where it’s going next – our main venue is likely to be occupied every weekend for the rest of the year with Zed Events, which we’ve been helping to organise crew for. That means we’re back hunting for spaces again, which most likely means reinventing the game from the ground up again to work with the new geography.

Level design is very tricky when the physical arena of your game space is laid out in advance for you. Many of the most serious challenges in creating our type of game stem from the constraints of physical space. Navigation, staging, set dressing and crucial game balance issues all arise from location. Different venues take different concentrations of survivors and zombies; they necessitate different objective types; they change the balance between mass play and individual play; they change the ranges and dynamics of combat in many ways. That’s all before you even start on the aesthetics and the safety issues.

Because of all that, each space needs a different approach to the game rules that puts the emphasis in the right place for the venue. (This is also what makes the game difficult to franchise – it doesn’t translate easily across venues without some serious thinking about scenario design.) In reality we’ve built at least three quite different rule sets now, all under the Zombie LARP umbrella, each one tailored to a different sort of space and player base. Now we’re moving again I strongly suspect we’ll end up with a fourth.

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Mary Hamilton

I'm a journalist-type tech-ish geek person, working in that interesting ambiguous place where reporting the news meets all sorts of peripheral skills. In my spare time I herd zombies, design games and write stuff.

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