PopCap talks Plants vs. Zombies Adventures: favorite zombies, new gameplay mechanics and more! [Interview]

Unless somebody happened to sneak up to your lawn recently and have a snack on your brains, then you’ve probably been aware of Plants vs. Zombies Adventures, PopCap’s new social take on their beloved Plants vs. Zombies franchise. In fact, the exciting social and “flower defense” hybrid has just gone live on Facebook as of this morning, so if you’re really feeling short on those brain waves, then you know right where to find them.

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Unless somebody happened to sneak up to your lawn recently and have a snack on your brains, then you’ve probably been aware of Plants vs. Zombies Adventures, PopCap’s new social take on their beloved Plants vs. Zombies franchise. In fact, the exciting social and “flower defense” hybrid has just gone live on Facebook as of this morning, so if you’re really feeling short on those brain waves, then you know right where to find them.

I had the chance to interview PopCap’s development team about the exciting new project, in between my runs of restocking Sunflowers in my home garden, and frantically trying to stop those new Barrel Zombies from flashing everyone in town. Curt Bererton, General Manager of PopCap San Francisco, and Mathilde Pignol, Creative Director of PopCap San Francisco, recently took some time away from prepping for their big zombie road trip to answer a few of my burning questions about PvZ Adventures.

You can read their fantastic responses below, and be sure to check out the wonderful Plants vs. Zombies Adventures on Facebook today!

Gamezebo: Gamers have been waiting for an official follow-up to Plants vs. Zombies for quite some time now, so it was both a pleasant and unexpected surprise to many fans when a completely separate social game was announced for Facebook. How did the idea of Plants vs. Zombies Adventures first come about? How far were you into the development cycle of Plants vs. Zombies 2 when you decided to embark on this zombie road trip?

Curt Bererton: The primary goal of Plants vs. Zombies Adventures was to make a great PvZ game that was well suited to the Facebook platform. In fact, the primary constraints we had at the beginning of the project were that it wouldn’t be the direct sequel (since that was already in-the-works).  It had to be a great fit for Facebook and it had to be true to the franchise.

Mathilde Pignol:We actually built 11 different prototypes of completely different game mechanics as we narrowed in on the concept of having a town which you needed to defend against the zombies and your friends. The town also let us tap into “traditional” Facebook mechanics such as allowing the players to grow the plants they take on the road to zap zombies. Moving forward, we’re excited to show players how much fun it will be to grow and defend their town with plants they discover on the road trip while playing with others.

CB: We’re also excited that this is just the beginning; one of the great advantages to making games on Facebook is that we’ll be updating the game quite frequently with new plants and zombies as well as some pretty big new features.


GZ: One of the first things that gamers are likely to notice about Plants vs. Zombies Adventures is the game’s unique and different art style. You could have easily stuck with the iconic and familiar cartoony PvZ visuals when making this release. What made your team decide to revamp the zombies’ look for this cool new approach and perspective?

MP:The biggest reason for our unique art style stems from our move to a 3D isometric view due to our focus on the town and the desire to have zombies come from everywhere.

Making the town an interesting space where players defend their buildings by laying out their own paths and positioning their plants simply wouldn’t be as fun if we had kept the same perspective as the original PvZ. Playing on larger maps meant that the zombies’, plants’ and humans’ expressions needed to read well from further away. This led to some of the other changes like having larger heads. Factor in that our plants are rendered 3D models so we can show them facing the zombies from whichever direction they come. All of this meant we really couldn’t just use the original 2D art style.

In terms of the artistic vision itself, we have a fantastic team of artists who really went above and beyond in creating a unique, painted style while remaining true to the spirit of the original.

GZ: The zombies are seriously all over my lawn this time around. Was it a difficult process constructing the dozens of different level layouts in the game, now that zombies can approach you from all four directions? What was it like to work with this expansive new gameplay mechanic?

CB: First let me say that we’ve only just begun to scratch the surface of what we can do with this new mechanic. To our knowledge, there’s nothing quite like this mechanic out there where enemies (zombies) will attack the towers (plants) before proceeding along the path. This opens up a pretty exciting new domain to try all sorts of cool new mechanics in addition to what we are launching in the game.

MP: We tried a ton of different combat mechanics before settling on this specific one, including more straight path-based tower defense, open world mechanics where zombies and plants could go anywhere on the map, turn-based RPG like mechanics—you name it. We feel we have found just the right hybrid that allows us to introduce new puzzles by laying out new paths and having the zombies come from different directions while still having it feel like the original with the sunflowers and zombies.

We’ve had a ton of fun so far and we have more ideas than you can shake a stick at with this style of gameplay. Stay tuned for more cool stuff as we continue to update the game.


GZ: I love how the newly-introduced social and freemium aspects actually add an entirely different level of strategy to the core PvZ gameplay. Specifically, players now have to strategize about how many plants they should place in any given level, because growing new ones costs them both time and coins. How did you set out to balance the traditional flower-defense gameplay with the broader, more laid-back approach of a social game?

CB: This one was a pretty tricky one for us. We actually tried several other versions of freemium mechanics. In fact, an earlier version had you spending energy to have an avatar pick up resources that you then crafted into plants. We’ve come a long way since then!

The goal was to make it so that both strategic min/maxers as well as more casual players could succeed in the flower defense gameplay. We tried several versions where it was either way too easy, or way too hard if you gave a variety of differently skilled players the exact same plants. Once we tested this model, we felt that it worked quite well in that it gives a very strategic player a goal to make it through combat using the smallest number of plants while making it so that more casual players can put down an army of plants to help them win.

GZ: Plants vs. Zombies Adventures introduces a number of new plant and zombie character types to the PvZ universe, like the powerful “Beeshooter” or “Aspearagus,” and those devious barrel zombies that never seem to cut me a break.  What are some of your personal favorite new plants and zombies, either from a creation or gameplay standpoint?

CB: On the plant side, I really love the Beet + Wall-nut combo. There’s just something so satisfying about having a barrel zombie stop to chew on a Wall-nut while the Beet pounds his barrel off. On the zombie side, Barrel zombie is of one of my favorites as you really can’t beat barrels and underwear. (Don’t forget to check out the detail on the underwear!) DJ Zom-B is styling with the latest beats and is surprisingly tough with all of that bling.

MP:My favorite new plant is probably the Shamrock, a long ranged shooter with a special camouflage mechanic to hide from the zombies. How can you not love him when he shoots out rainbows?

On the zombie side, I love the Conga Line zombies. The leader comes out and until you kill him, the followers keep coming out. The Conga dancers are the first female zombies in the franchise, un-dead equality for all!


GZ: Can gamers expect any future crossovers between Plants vs. Zombies Adventures and the upcoming sequel, Plants vs. Zombies 2: It’s About Time?

CB:For now, Plants vs. Zombies 2 isn’t out yet, but we have had some interesting initial discussions about how things could play well together. Stay tuned for more on this in the future.

GZ: Thanks so much for your time! Is there anything else you would like the Gamezebo audience to know about Plants vs. Zombies Adventures?

CB & MP: We’d like to shout out to the whole Plants vs. Zombies Adventures team. We feel we work with some of the best and brightest people in the gaming industry. It’s a pleasure to come to work with the team every day. Having a fun place to work with smart people is something that we treasure.

Lastly, we feel that we’ve got a game that we believe Facebook gamers and PvZ fans alike will believe is a really fresh take on Plants vs. Zombies. It’s got zombies coming from all directions, new plants, zombies and a ton of new features coming in the near future; we’ll be listening to fan feedback and incorporating suggestions and comments into our current plans. This is just the beginning of the ride and we’re looking forward to where we go from here.