PopCap On Plants Vs Zombies: Garden Warfare

By Nathan Grayson on June 19th, 2013 at 3:00 pm.

Plants vs Zombies is boldly going where no popular gaming franchise has gone before: to a land of over-the-shoulder camera angles and gleefully bobbing crosshairs, whereupon things will be shot mercilessly. OK, maybe it’s not the boldest move ever in the grand scheme of things, but Plants vs Zombies: Garden Warfare is quite a departure for PopCap’s vegetable stew of a tower porch defender, and it’s looking admirably silly. But so far, all we’ve seen is a quick bit of co-op. What about large-scale (24-ish player) competitive multiplayer and the ability to play as zombies? Also, stepping back a bit, why make a shooter out of Plants vs Zombies at all? I spoke with creative director Justin Wiebe to find out. 

RPS: Why did you decide to do this with Plants vs Zombies, of all series?

Wiebe: We really wanted to grow the franchise. We knew it could be more than a 2D tower defense game, but we weren’t sure. So we had a team say, “You know what? Let’s try something different. Let’s just go for it. And if it doesn’t work out, that’s fine.” Because if it’s not fun, we’re not gonna release it. But we worked on the demo for a while and it turned out that this thing was just awesome.

But we knew we couldn’t just tell everyone, “Hey, we’re making this really cool PvZ action-multiplayer game,” because it sounds crazy, right? It shouldn’t work. So we knew we had to show them, not tell them. So we had to keep it secret for two years.

RPS: Why a shooter? Why not a farming simulator or epic space opera role-playing game?

Wiebe: We explored different genres. We knew we wanted to build an action game that allowed players to play in the fight between the plants and zombies. That felt like the right way to go because it’d let the series evolve. We explored different design ideas. We put a bunch of possibilities together, like maybe an open-world game or a straight-up single-player action game. But at the end of the day, we kept coming back to multiplayer. Multiplayer brings that random fun element to it – the ability to play with friends or strangers. It just worked for us.

RPS: We’ve seen one level, but how much variety are we looking at? What sorts of map sizes and objectives?

Wiebe: This is truthfully our very first reveal to the world. This is our four-player co-op map. It’s also the first game mode we’re unveiling. But when we started off, this was actually billed as a very competitive multiplayer game. So we’ve got a lot more details that we’re gonna be unveiling over time. So essentially, this is just the tip of the iceberg for us. But you can imagine if we head toward a 24-player competitive Plants vs Zombies experience… just let your imagination run with it.

RPS: So naturally, there will also be modes where one side plays plants and the other plays zombies, right? I mean, it is called Plants vs Zombies, after all. 

Wiebe: Exactly.

RPS: Will players mainly be controlling the big boss zombies, then?

Wiebe: That’s interesting. It remains to be seen.

What we’ve done is we’ve worked very hard with our team. We’re very passionate PvZ players, and we went through all the characters trying to nail down what are the four core plant classes that we wanted to have. Which characters fit those classes. And it’s the same way for the zombies. It’s very difficult to whittle it down to what are going to be the essential core of your multiplayer experience.

RPS: How many original PvZ members are also working on Garden Warfare? I mean, I don’t imagine many of them came with a working knowledge of Frostbite 3. 

Wiebe: We actually assembled a team of Frostbite veterans. People who’d been working in the engine for years. People with experience in shooters and other action genres. And that experience basically allowed us to have a playable version of our game up and running honestly within two weeks of starting development. We just went right for it because honestly we needed to create a demo and prove whether this was gonna be fun or not very, very quickly.

RPS: It all looks very tongue-in-cheek and self-aware, though. But, at the same time, I think a lot of people feel like you’re morphing PvZ into some seriousface rah-rah-rah shooter. Do you think that’s shooter fatigue talking? Are you worried about shooter fatigue?

Wiebe: Well, I think shooting is actually a core part of PvZ, right? I mean, you look at your Pea Shooter. You’ve got your cactus. There’s a lot of projectile-based characters within the core game. Basically, all we did is find the characters that made the most sense as projectile characters. But if you look at the Chomper, he’s not projectile-based. He’s more of a platformer kind of character. He just wants to run around and eat as many zombies as possible.

RPS: Well, sure. Things do technically shoot other things in PvZ, but that’s not the main verb of the game. In PvZ classic, you’re strategically arraying cheerful green things that do the shooting for you. Garden Warfare is actually about aiming and pulling the trigger. That action, that central goal. That’s what I mean.

Wiebe: Well, I think what we’re gearing it toward is fans of Plants vs Zombies first and foremost – and fans of the action genre. So if you take that, add some depth, and mix in some humor, this game is not gonna be positioned in a place where we would necessarily compete with the likes of Call of Duty or Battlefield. We want to be the game that players play when they want to relax from managing their KD ratio. Something where they can just sit down, enjoy the game, and laugh out loud.

RPS: Yeah, and humor’s obviously a pretty big thing here. The Call of Duty call-out at the start, especially, got some good laughs. But frankly, a lot of EA games seem to get a little too wrapped up in themselves. They lose sight of how silly most of what we do in games really is. What are you doing to avoid that?

Wiebe: I think the important thing in this game is to not take itself too seriously and look strategically at where we can poke fun at other games – including our own titles. We’ve already made fun of a lot of EA-owned products, and I think there’s a lot of good humor in that. We’re gonna carry that on because it’s part of the core humor of the game.

RPS: Is Garden Warfare going to be free-to-play like Plants vs Zombies 2?

Wiebe: We’re not releasing any kind of details on finance models or anything of that nature at this point. That information will probably be coming at a later date.

RPS: OK, but you’re working with EA. They’ve become quite, um, fond of microtransactions recently. Presumably those will be in Garden Warfare as well, right?

Wiebe: We’re not releasing any financial details at this time.

RPS: Right. Well then, can you explain why Plants vs Zombies 2 is coming to mobile first even though the series got its start on PC?

Wiebe: Unfortunately, I’m not qualified to answer that question because I wasn’t working [on it] at that time.

RPS: Ah, oh well. Thank you for your time. 

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61 Comments »

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  1. WoundedBum says:

    I don’t know if it’s just me but the entire article is appearing on the frontpage.

    Also, I don’t have any proof, but I imagine the iOS version sold a ton, which is probably why they’re focusing on that. Still, would be a shame to see it not come to PC either.

  2. boe2 says:

    This game is -such- a bad idea. Exactly the people that loved PvZ will hate this game
    expert source: My girlfriend

    • Chalky says:

      There’s something to be said for not constantly pandering to precisely the same audience every time you make a game though.

      The idea is completely insane. So crazy that who knows… it might actually turn out OK.

      It might end up being a complete pile of shit, but at least it’s not going to be a samey and unadventurous pile of shit.

      • boe2 says:

        Yeah, it’s aimed towards shooter fans this time. Thank god that market isn’t oversaturated yet. It’s exactly what the world needed. Another shooter.

        • Chalky says:

          Well, to be fair there are shooter fans and shooter fans. If there’s a saturated shooter market at the moment, it’s the browny grey ultra realistic hoo har brofist codblops market (that’s the technical term). I don’t think this has the same target audience.

          I imagine it’ll be more for the TF2 light hearted shooter market, which I don’t think is all that packed at the moment.

      • rockidr4 says:

        Shooter fans have plenty of IPs to have fun with. Tower defense fans have plenty of IPs to play with. Why do we need to be cross pollinating the IPs to give favorites of one set to the other set. It all just seems like artistic inbreeding to me.

        • aepervius says:

          Ask the guys making the “syndicate” shooter how well that cross pollination went…

          • The Random One says:

            If I was forced to make a shooter based on Syndicate, I’d make it a RTS game in which you can ASSUME DIRECT CONTROL of your guys, so it could be played as the original Syndicate, as a rah rah shooter, or as a tactical Rainbow Six style shooter. I’d make EA millions and we’d buy the moon, then offer it to the world under a fair free-to-gaze format with microtransactions.

            Or: the fact that the Syndicate shooter failed does not neccessarily mean that a Syndicate shooter would always fail, that a game in another genre converted to a shooter will always fail, or that a game being switched to a genre with a different user base will always fail. It may just mean Syndicate was rubbish.

          • nearly says:

            Or the people that made a multiplayer FPS Shadowrun. Or the people that wanted to make an XCOM shooter.

    • Listlurker says:

      Yeah. I like good shooter games, and I like Plants Versus Zombies. but I really _don’t_ need the latter to become the former. Variety is a good thing.

    • riverman says:

      I gave the first one a pleasant five or so hours of my life, but never got around to firing it back up. that said, this game sounds like it could be either extremely fun or really awful. time will tell.

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      Lord Custard Smingleigh says:

      Lady Smingleigh saw the video, said “huh”, then returned to her iPad to continue planting her porch-defending legions.

    • chargen says:

      I just asked Steam and it says that my account, mostly by my kids, has put 538 hours into Plants vs. Zombies. I told them a while ago that there was going to be a Plants vs Zombies 2. I haven’t yet found the heart to tell them what it turned out to be.

      edit: wait I actually just found out that PvZ2 is something totally different that this turd. Never you mind then. My outrage has turned to antipathy.

      • Low Life says:

        This game is not Plants vs. Zombies 2, it’s an entirely separate game.

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    Arvind says:

    I’d just like to take a moment, gather my thoughts, and say:

    THEY BLOODY DID IT. THEY MADE IT A SHOOTER.

    I’ll just go cry in a corner now.

    • Flappybat says:

      At first I thought this but after watching extended gameplay it makes a lot more sense.

      It’s a shooter but it’s a four player coop shooter and we’re not exactly knee deep in those other than Call Of Duty Zombies. From a quick check of release lists, unless this gets released we may not get a single coop shooter this year.

  4. acheron says:

    The end of the interview reminds me of this. “The bomb says no.”

  5. djbriandamage says:

    Can a PvZ game without George Fan capture the spirit of the original? I’m very skeptical. SHAME on Popcap and EA for laying off a man who earned his monetary worth ten thousand times over.

    To get a sense of what big shoes Popcap must fill, check out this very insightful and amusing GDC lecture where George Fan explains the art of the game-long tutorial. http://www.gdcvault.com/play/1015541/How-I-Got-My-Mom

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      Rikard Peterson says:

      Thanks for the link! I enjoyed watching it.

      • djbriandamage says:

        Glad you enjoyed! I think it’s one of the best GDC videos. He’s such a likeable and intelligent guy it’s unfathomable why Popcap would let him go. He made Insaneaquarium as well!

    • Trif says:

      “PvZ is based off the Tower Defense genre and I was looking for a way to get these stationary towers in my game but also inject them with some personality; and plants were perfect because people expect plants to stay in one place and thus they made good replacements for the towers.” – George Fan, around 47 minutes

      I’m beginning to understand why he wasn’t involved in this game.

    • Listlurker says:

      Agreed, George Fan got completely shafted. If anybody earned his keep, it was that guy, and we all know that however much he was paid, the publisher earned millions more.

    • Tei says:

      Thanks, thats a really good link :D

    • JackShandy says:

      Fantastic link, thank you.

  6. MuscleHorse says:

    Wait up; PvZ2 is going to be f2p? I thought the only details we had of that was the teaser trailer.

    • boe2 says:

      “Get the solar flower character for only 20$”

      • Chalky says:

        “are you going to have microtransactions?”
        “we’re not going to discuss that”

        Well, that’s a yes then.

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      RedViv says:

      The iOS version releasing next month will be, at least. Just like the iOS version of the first game. No need to worry yet.

    • bstard says:

      F2p? Interest into upcoming game with funny looking pictures and good memories dropping to 0.

  7. aliksy says:

    I assume this is due to corporate meddling from EA or whoever owns popcap now.
    Also “We really wanted to grow the franchise” is some gross corpspeak.

  8. Dowr says:

    “Quick, we need another shooter!”

    EA’s entire business plan.

  9. AbyssUK says:

    This has Battlefield Heroes written all over it…. but by god if they put starwars themed stuff in it instant money maker…

  10. apocraphyn says:

    I’m honestly surprised you didn’t raise a point about there not being any blatantly female zombies. Or plants.

  11. almostDead says:

    Still can’t believe this isn’t a joke. This must have been a joke byline in so many internet comments through the years after the sale ‘well wait till EA CODify PvZ 1!!11!!’.

    The interview tails off really quickly into ‘i’ve had my corporate PR training from HQ’.

    Seems weird that they wanted to create a new team with a whole new bunch of people who mostly weren’t them to do something like this.

    • Listlurker says:

      I remember that, even before the buyout, people were pointing out and joking that EA seemed to have the need to “shooter-ize” every franchise they acquired. It was truer than we knew.

  12. bleeters says:

    There’s something faintly frustrating about all this talk of ‘trying something different’ and ‘evolving’, and coming up with a third person co-op shooter.

    Wow, guys. I can’t even begin to imagine the maelstrom of imaginative brainstorming that lead to this.

  13. Chris D says:

    After years of development my prototype subtext-analyser is ready for testing. Let’s fire this thing up and see what happens.

    RPS: Why did you decide to do this with Plants vs Zombies, of all series?

    Wiebe: Plants vs Zombies made a shit-ton of money despite not being the kind of generic, design-by-numbers shooter we usually churn out. Imagine how much money it could have made if it was the kind of generic, design-by-numbers shooter we usually churn out.

    RPS: Why a shooter? Why not a farming simulator or epic space opera role-playing game?

    Wiebe: I don’t understand the question.

    RPS: We’ve seen one level, but how much variety are we looking at? What sorts of map sizes and objectives?

    Wiebe: Don’t worry you’ll be able to shoot people in a variety of settings that bear a superficial resemblance to a game you really liked.

    RPS: So naturally, there will also be modes where one side plays plants and the other plays zombies, right? I mean, it is called Plants vs Zombies, after all.

    Wiebe: Exactly! Is this what it feels like to answer a question directly?

    RPS: Will players mainly be controlling the big boss zombies, then?

    Wiebe: Hold on, let me write that down!

    RPS: How many original PvZ members are also working on Garden Warfare? I mean, I don’t imagine many of them came with a working knowledge of Frostbite 3.

    Wiebe: We fired those guys already. People just liked the game becuase it looked cute, right? We may not be able to do creativity ourselves, but at least we can buy the license and make something that looks like it.

    RPS: It all looks very tongue-in-cheek and self-aware, though. But, at the same time, I think a lot of people feel like you’re morphing PvZ into some seriousface rah-rah-rah shooter. Do you think that’s shooter fatigue talking? Are you worried about shooter fatigue?

    Wiebe: There was lots of shooting in PvZ! There’s the pea-shooter, the triple-pea shooter, the star thing, the butter throwing thing.. Four out of about twenty is almost half, right? We think players will be able to relate to the sunflower more now it’s a ruthless killer with a troubled past. Before it almost looked like it might have been a girl.

    RPS: Well, sure. Things do technically shoot other things in PvZ, but that’s not the main verb of the game. In PvZ classic, you’re strategically arraying cheerful green things that do the shooting for you. Garden Warfare is actually about aiming and pulling the trigger. That action, that central goal. That’s what I mean.

    Wiebe: I didn’t really understand plants vs zombies but I know people buy shooters and I know that because that’s all we make.

    RPS: Yeah, and humor’s obviously a pretty big thing here. The Call of Duty call-out at the start, especially, got some good laughs. But frankly, a lot of EA games seem to get a little too wrapped up in themselves. They lose sight of how silly most of what we do in games really is. What are you doing to avoid that?

    Wiebe: You can get away with all kinds of shit if you call it irony. Trust me on this.

    RPS: Is Garden Warfare going to be free-to-play like Plants vs Zombies 2?

    Wiebe: Relax! This will be over soon.

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      Gap Gen says:

      The best!

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      Vesuvius says:

      This should be in the original article, it’s dead on.

      Thanks Chris Delay!

    • bleeters says:

      I don’t know whether to laugh or furrow my brows in annoyance at how accurate this is.

      I mean, I guess I could do both.

    • eaprivacypolicy says:

      Brilliant. There is indeed more truth in this mock interview than the original one.

      I loved the Popcap games for their excellent gameplay, with obsessive attention to detail down to every little piece of sound. I have been dreading moments like these ever since EA bought them.

      Sure enough these moments keep coming, like the rank smell of decay from the dark EA lair where brands are ‘aligned’ to be ‘leveraged’ in ‘aggressive mediocrity’.

    • JackShandy says:

      We explored different design ideas. We put a bunch of possibilities together, like maybe an open-world game where you shoot people, or a straight-up single-player action game where you shoot people. But at the end of the day, we kept coming back to a multiplayer game where you shoot people.

    • bstard says:

      Hobo: Any plans with PvZ in the future?

      Flashy sales guy: Currently we’re doing market research for Sim Plants. It’ll be a multiplayer garden where gamers actually play together, where their plants live and grown, where the hard computer load is taken care of by our servers! We got this great glass something engine for it.

  14. Premium User Badge

    Gap Gen says:

    So, Leaf4Dead?

  15. Moraven says:

    It seems potentially has the Conker’s multiplayer vibe. After Goldeneye it has some of the best console multiplayer. Remake multiplayer on Xbox took what was good on the N64 and made it bad.

  16. Sardonic says:

    I’m still not convinced this isn’t an elaborate hoax.

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    Lambchops says:

    Different multiplayer modes, eh? What’s the odds on one of them resembling one of these new-fangled MOBA (or whatever it was we decided to call them) things that all the kids these days love?

  18. Zogtee says:

    I have 130+ hours in the original game and own it on both PC and iOS, and I hate this.

    Perhaps the most ironic thing is that interview with Popcap just before E3, where they said that EA haven’t influenced them in any way at all. And then BAM, 3rd person military shooter, free to play shoved down it’s throat, and microtransactions coming out of it’s arse.

    Die in a fucking forest fire.

  19. b0rsuk says:

    Big publishers don’t think in terms of good games. They think in terms of valuable franchises.

  20. Homu Homu says:

    I’m disappointed that Popcap isn’t out of business yet.

  21. Frank says:

    Really? An MP-only shooter, with four classes on each side? Yeah, what Homu said: I’d be happy to see Popcap’s staff free to return to making good, interesting games. And working for EA does not seem compatible with that.

  22. Zaranell says:

    Jesus christ, I know a lot of people have shooter fatigue, but this comment section reeks of cynicism to me. I played the hell out of PvZ, and I don’t have any problem with this at all. I’m just as sick of modern-day military warfare FPS’s as much as the next guy, but this doesn’t have the bland, “gritty” realism and overly serious tone of CoD or Battlefield. It’s tongue-in-cheek, and looks like a decent amount of fun. Shooting cactus spikes at disco zombies with my friends sounds hilarious enough that I’m fine with it.

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m not fond of EA, and I completely understand why people are upset about them taking an IP like PvZ and making a multiplayer shooter out of it. However, given that it’s only a spin-off and they’re still making PvZ 2, I don’t think it’s really that big a deal. The real issue is how the sequel turns out. I’m not holding my breath since it’s on iOS first and will be F2P, but neither of those automatically mean it’s going to be terrible. Much more likely, yes, but not guaranteed.

  23. TwwIX says:

    Ahh, good ol’ EA! The pioneer of innovation.

    They stopped challenging “eeeeeverything” since it requires too much effort and have settled with challenging the depth of your pockets instead. Don’t worry, though.
    They’re still “EA Games”. “It’s in the game”, after all! Well… part of it is.