Into every social collective a stereotype is born; possibly grown from the directorial suggestions of the seminal , no sniggering, classic Revenge of the Nerds directed by Jeff Kanew. The image of video gamers, and to some extent card, and board gamers, does not lend itself to the idea of regular fitness or competitive exercise; yet stereotypes, in all fields of interest, like their statistical outliers are the furthest end of such locus. Which is why, with the advent of smart phones and smarter Internet connections, the connection between mobile apps and an active lifestyle has been made by way of video games and in turn begun to cross the boundaries of stereotyping.
A recent development mobile app development for iOS and Android is the release of “Run An Empire.” Which encourages users to Walk, Jog, or Run an empire with the view to tracking your journeys and in turn scoring coins by covering distance and surrounding areas which have been defined as hexes. In doing so the player can claim a space on a map which reflects the space where they live. Added to this incentive are procedurally created Castles which are collected in the act of crossing through those hexes and which in turns declare their username for all the other players to see. Therein lies the competition as castles may be claimed, and laid siege to, by regular running the spending of in game currency to upgrade those space where they live, Developing a civilisation as it discovers new eras of progress and builds villages, farms, workshops, quarries, churches, banks, and farms, Developing a tiny empire under foot. Aiding the players ability , and speeding up development, is the discovery of occasional loot chests , which appear on the map along with a teasing countdown timer above them, waiting for a player to walk, jog, or run, to that location and claim the loot before any others.
The game sits somewhere between a competitive game of squares ( or hexes ) with a touch of Civilisation and a hint of capture the flag. As yet there are no clear multiplayer or clan based experiences and there seems to be no clear indicator as to how a castle or area might be better secured against other players; based on seeing a local castle move from occupied by one player to captured by another player there is no obvious idea as to if that was a genuine player or some computer generated recapturing of a location.
As with all procedurally generated games which rely on overlapping an augmented world on top of a physical space there are problems where castles , or chests, can be generated to appear in locations which are restricted in access, or exist only on private land. There is no mechanism in the game by which to report or request judgement on those castles and they sit forever tantalisingly just of out hex reach. Indeed without any additional player interaction, leader boards, web presence, or communication it is hard to determine if they are all playing in single instance spaces against artificial enemies or other genuine players.
The application design feels a little cramped and somewhat less intuitive in terms of actions and results. Indeed for much of the initial part of the game the player is not invited to sign up or create a user account. The start button was regularly accidentally pressed whilst attempting to select a new development. The application can itself be connected to another running services like Strava; and here again the connection is less than intuitive. Players cannot export or save activities; instead the app can see the most recent runs recorded on Strava and then pulls them down into the application; often the run distance is then recalculated sometimes adding extra miles where none occurred. That process can feel back to front and is automated in such a way as it’s not clear why and how it is about to carry out an import.
As someone who runs on a regular basis the coins and progress made are soon impressive and as such the screen layout begins to become crowded as the numbers overlap the onscreen name and again the amount of progress available becomes a process of tapping in and out of menus and occasionally starting an accidental run. Its clear there will be many more iterations of the layout for the user interface and for the moment it suffices for game interaction but it cannot help but feel like a game designed for someone possibly averaging a few less miles a week.
It is not clear how far the progress and development of each era will occur ahead of the current timeline; but it seems obvious that having moved into the middle ages after just a few days of running the game it may be that flight and the internet will be developed before November is out. After that, and without more player interaction and feedback, it is unclear how the app might want to stay on the phone.
However it is early days and the Run An Empire is showing some considered popularity; so here’s to many more castles on the run and chances to claim space and own hexes before others. Go download Run and Empire and leave a note on your own experience.
After all there are a great many ideas that wait to be changed regarding the face of gaming; this then is one more opportunity to change the shape of those beliefs…