Humans and Zombies of the Outbreak group.

Forget footballs  – this is Friday Night Lights, zombie-style.

Students at Redmond’s DigiPen are loading up their nerf guns and strapping on bandanas for tonight’s Friday Night Finale, where the Human Resistance will make its final stand against the Zombie Horde during the fifth and final day of Outbreak: Season 4.

You’re probably wondering what the heck we’re writing about, and unless you’ve hung around a college campus recently, you probably aren’t alone. Outbreak is a clever, more sophisticated iteration of the well-known Humans vs. Zombies game, which was born in 2005 at Goucher College.

Here’s a brief description from the official website:

Humans vs. Zombies (HvZ) is a game of moderated tag played at schools, camps, neighborhoods, military bases, and conventions across the world. Human players must remain vigilant and defend themselves with socks and dart blasters to avoid being tagged by a growing zombie horde.

And this is how Outbreak is different, with a link to the rules:

Outbreak is a glorified game of Zombie Tag, in which a several players (Zombies) begin as “it.” As players are tagged by these Zombie, they also become Zombies and take part in the tagging. Survivors, players who have not yet been tagged, are permitted to use certain approved weapons, such as Nerf-type foam dart blasters, to ‘stun’ Zombies for a duration. The game lasts until all Survivors are tagged or until the Survivors escape during the Friday Night Finale.

The Survivors trying to fend off Zombies.

A neat aspect of Outbreak, which debuted this year, is that it was not part of an official DigiPen course. Ten students in DigiPen’s Game Design bachelor’s degree programs wanted to make some improvements to the original game and applied their talent to create Outbreak. They organized themselves using a traditional game studio model, setting up a development team with positions like executive producer, lead designer and graphic artist.

The team met for multiple hours per week to plan and strategize for this week’s battle. It’s impressive considering the rigorous workload at DigiPen, one of the top game design colleges in the country.

The team is technically a school club and has collectively spent about $725 out-of-pocket to support the operations. They’ve made nearly 90 percent of that back thanks to student transactions on items like dog tags and other goods that players purchase.

“It’s kind of ludicrous that we pulled this off,” said junior Kevin Sheehan, executive producer of design. . “It’s gotten to the point where the school is thinking about making a special topics class about alternative reality design. This is another way of designing games that isn’t purely digital.”

It’s a Humans vs. Zombies skirmish.

This is so much different than your typical class project. A bad performance in class may result in a poor grade, but there isn’t much backlash.

Not succeeding with Outbreak, however, has different consequences.

“We don’t have anybody checking on us, but there are 200 people expecting this to happen that will be upset if we fail,” Sheehan said. “It’s a very different tone than class. It’s much more accurate to what you’ll see in the industry. It changes the way people are motivated to work on projects.”

DigiPen students started playing Humans vs. Zombies in November of 2010 and about 60 players participated in the season 1 Friday Night Finale. Membership increased to 140 members by season 3 and 200 signed up for season 4 this fall.

Outbreak lasts for five days and is a 24-hour extravaganza. That means both zombies and humans must be on high alert throughout the week.

The Zombies.

“You’ll be walking to school and suddenly have to shoot all these zombies, or if you’re zombie, you might see a human and try to ambush him,” Sheehan said.

The team plans on creating a player handbook and dungeon map by the end of the academic year that other schools can download and learn how Outbreak works.

Tonight marks the culimination of the week-long event, which happens twice a year. It ends either when all of the Humans are killed, or when the Humans complete all of their mission objectives.

Not a bad way to spend a Friday night.

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