“The one thing I have learned: If your friends fake your other friend’s birthday and trap you unknowingly in a giant Zombie Apocalypse…don't hit people with a shovel.”

- Steve Nagy

Project Name:

Zombie Apocalypse Surprise Birthday

Project Type:

Production, Design

Project Descriptor:

Immersive multi-stage zombie adventure

As a sign of affection (and one-upmanship) the RocketHouse family has always enjoyed creating elaborate birthday surprises for each other. We refer to them as “birthday kidnappings” but that’s really a misnomer – we usually set up a storyline where our hero, the birthday boy or girl, needs to rescue someone else that’s been kidnapped or poisoned or something similarly dangerous and urgent. 

One year we surprised Steve six months after his actual birthday by ditching him in Banff with a GoPro and just enough clues to send him on the most surprising, epic, and devious birthday adventure to date: The Zombie Apocalypse!

Our Recipe for Adventure

These parties have taken a number of different forms over the years but they almost always involve multiple locations, various puzzles or clues, and dozens of friends and family in character roles. A storyline is roughly scripted with a few important plot points to hit but then it evolves organically during the experience through the improvised lines of everyone involved. We do our best to cater the story and activity style to the taste of the hero so that it’s something they will find fun and genuinely want to participate in. Running through the woods in the middle of the night isn’t for everyone. Deciphering cryptic symbols isn’t for everyone. Each little birthday soul has their own flavour of adventure fun.

Steve’s Adventure Flavour

Steve’s flavour of fun involves travel, lots of friends, puzzles, and a whole lot of running and hitting things. So we decided to go with “zombies” as the theme for what became our favourite birthday kidnapping yet.

Why was this our favourite? Well…

6

Locations

1

Phone Hacked

30

Friends in Character

204

Days After Steve’s Real Birthday

The Unbirthday Party

This party took place six months after Steve’s birthday…on Donovan’s birthday. This required planning an entire second (fake) birthday party for Donovan so that Steve wouldn’t become suspicious – and so that he would book off the entire day. Steve was under the impression that he was taking Donovan out to Banff to keep him away from the apartment while the rest of us set up the surprise, but Donovan was actually taking Steve out to Banff so we could set up the surprise. While they were gone the rest of us set up five different locations around Calgary with about thirty of Steve’s friends as costumed characters including ten people turned into zombies by a professional makeup artist.

Double Agents and Hacking Steve’s Phone

While Donovan and Steve were in Banff I was texting them both separately about how the party set-up was progressing; talking with Donovan about the real party and making up stuff about the fake party to tell Steve – dropping hints about how things had taken a terrible turn and everything back in Calgary was “worse than you could possibly imagine”. Once everything was ready in Calgary, Donovan got Steve into a coffee shop and then “stepped outside to take a call”. 

That’s when we sprung the surprise.

Steve called me in a panic about the texts I’d been sending – when we were about two sentences into the call his phone locked out, freezing all access, and displaying the message “Welcome to the Zombie Apocalypse. Look in the bag.”

Ditching Steve in Banff

Donovan left his drink and backpack in the cafe and simply walked out, pausing to lock out Steve’s phone before jumping in a rental car. Steve, meanwhile, was completely baffled by the new development with his phone and took a couple of minutes before gingerly opening Donovan’s backpack to find the red light of a running GoPro blinking up at him. On that footage, you can see Steve look at the camera in utter confusion, closing the bag for another couple of minutes, and then opening it again with something between a smile and a grimace, and the line “You assholes!”

Alongside the GoPro we left a CD with a note giving coded instructions to drive back to Calgary and play the CD for further clues. The Zombie Apocalypse had begun!

The Storyline

The first track of the CD featured a couple of resistance fighters battling a virus outbreak that had been orchestrated by a shadowy organization. Luckily, the resistance had developed a cure gun that could restore zombies to humans, but to protect the weapon from the shadowy enemy the gun pieces had been scattered around Calgary. Everyone was pinned down, only Steve could find all the locations and assemble the gun to save us all (including his zombified friends). The rest of the CD was a mixture of pump up music and messages from Steve’s friends and family from out of town, wishing him a “Happy Apocalypse!” We timed out the compilation so that Steve would have entertainment and instructions during his entire drive back to the city.

The clues led Steve to his thoroughly ransacked apartment where he met a couple of friends that had information from the resistance. And after finding clues hidden in the rubble Steve was sent along to the Breathe/No Limits gym where he needed to battle parkour zombies and rescue another couple of friends. Next stop was an empty building that had once been Forbidden Clothing (the location of our first production of MindFire) where Steve teamed up with the MindFire hero and found me knocked out in the dirt basement while zombies crawled out of the holes in the walls. I sent them on to Protospace to meet the final boss – the Mastermind of the outbreak where Donovan was being used as a human shield. After fending off attacks from a robot guard Steve tried to free Donovan but not before the Mastermind injected him with poison. Luckily the poison had an antidote: Village Beer! Steve rushed Donovan to Village Brewery to sample all of the antidotes and celebrate with all the freedom fighters and all the friends that had miraculously been un-zombified. In all the excitement Steve forgot to assemble the cure gun, but luckily everyone made it to the final location safely and the cure even managed to turn the Mastermind back into a good guy. Balance and peace had been restored!