SDCC 2013: Plants vs. Zombies 2: It’s About Time

PvZ2_LogoS_CMYK

Recently, while battling the zombie hordes of San Diego Comic Con International, we got to catch up with Popcap’s Mohan Rajagopalan about the upcoming Plants vs. Zombies 2: It’s About Time.

Will it be free? Can we expect new things? WILL DISCO ZOMBIE MAKE HIS TRIUMPHANT RETURN!?!?! Welll…

When Plants Vs. Zombies 2 comes out, will it have as wide of a release as PvZ did, at launch?

At launch, it’s going to be iOS first (iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch), but we definitely have plans to bring it to Android, and after that, chances are we’re going to follow a similar route as the first game…of course we want to try to get it in as many places as we can!

At E3, you weren’t really discussing the business model…any chance you could discuss it here? When PvZ came out initiailly, it was free. Then it was $3 on Android, but then it went free for several months. What’s the pricing structure of  PvZ 2 going to look like?

That fluctuation is pretty typical of iOS and mobile platforms. Things will go on sale, and you’ll see things show up as free for awhile. That’s largely a marketing/business decision. For PvZ2, the goal is to get it to the largest audience possible. I think there’s no denying that making a game free to play makes it accessible as it can be to the largest possible audience. That really is the biggest motivating factor: to get it downloaded by the as many people as possible, and also, to get people who may not have played the first game to discover and enjoy it as well.

“I need three more potato mines, STAT!”

Plants vs. Zombies is one of those interesting niche games that fall into the Tony Hawk Paradigm: that is, you can play it for 3 minutes, or you can play it obsessively for six hours. With that in mind, will Plants vs. Zombies 2 follow the same model?

A lot of it will be very familiar if you know the first game, you’ll be able to dive right in! There are definitely some exciting new elements we’ve added to the game. The full title is Plants vs. Zombies 2: It’s About Time, partly because it’s a time travel game, so you’ll be seeing the plants and zombies fighting in all sorts of crazy locations. At launch, we’re going to have three time periods: Ancient Egypt, Pirate Seas and the Wild West, so you can probably imagine some of the things you’re going to see! Pirate zombies swinging across your ship, Clint Eastwood-style cowboys with bulletproof vests, etc.

Of all the story elements, why did you pick time travel?

Time travel, for us, wasn’t because we wanted to tell some insanely involved time travel story. It was just an awesome excuse to put plants and zombies in goofy situations and just have a lot of fun with it.

You mentioned pirate zombies boarding ships…does that mean we’re going to see sea warfare?

Yes. Each world has unique mechanics associated with it, and we wanted to make sure that everytime we went somewhere new, we tweaked the gameplay mechanics a little bit and made it a bit different. So the Pirate Seas level has two ships: one is the plants ship, and the other is the zombies ship. Between them is ocean, but there are plants that bridge those gaps. How the zombies get from one ship to the other really varies: some walk across the gaps, some swing, there’s one that’s dropped from above by seagulls, there’s a cannon…all sorts of silly stuff like that!

“YARRRRRR!”

Are you going to be incorporating any kinds of microtransactions or unlockable characters or purchases at launch?

There are definitely going to be some in-app transactions, but the vast majority of “locked” items in the game can be unlocked by playing for free. There are a few premium plants and premium upgrades that you can buy, but they’re truly not needed for completion. It was very important to us that the game be really fun and satisfying to anyone, regardless of how much they paid. We know a lot of people are nervous about free to play, so the burden falls on us to make sure we did it right! You know, so we don’t put off our fan base. For anyone that’s skeptical, I just encourage them to download it. It’s free! Give it a try and decide for yourself!

Will PvZ 2 be a strict “one on one” game, or will you incorporate multiplayer elements?

At launch, it’s just going to be a single player game, but we know from experience that there are multiplayer opportunities in PvZ. I think it was the Xbox version that had a co-op mode that was pretty fun, but even without a formal co-op mode, we’ve seen parents and children playing the game together. Often, you’ll have parents doing the planting and kids picking up sun. And since PvZ 2 supports multi-touch, you are able to play it that way. You’ll have to adjust a little bit, so you don’t end up clashing with each other, but

Beyond that, we’d love to do a multiplayer mode at some point, and we have some ideas in the works…maybe somewhere down the line?

Are there plans to continually update and expand the PvZ universe?

Yes. Plants vs. Zombies 2 is an ongoing game: we plan to update it regularly. Like I said before, we’ll have three worlds at launch, and you can expect to see a fourth world sometime this year, and we’ll continue to add more worlds, more zombies, more plants and new modes, including (hopefully at some point) a multiplayer mode.

“Ruh-roh!”

The future worlds you plan on releasing…will they be likewise free or unlockable, or will they be premium content?

The plan is that all of the worlds that we continue to release will be free. So, you’ll be able to unlock them the same way you unlock the worlds in the launch version.

You mentioned a time travel element without a strong emphasis on story, and since the first game had such a simple narrative, is there a longer story in PvZ 2?

There’s definitely a story, but we were really careful not to try to go overboard with it, right? People like a little bit of a silly story, but mostly they just want to get into the game and play. We have a setup though: At the very beginning to Plants vs. Zombies 2, Dave comes out with a taco, and if you remember from the first game, you sold him a taco, so he’s been holding onto it for awhile. Now he’s finally ready to eat it, so he eats it at the beginning of the game, and he loves it so much that he wants to eat it again. Not just another taco…he wants that taco again, so naturally you’d go back in time, right? So that’s when he introduces the player to a time machine, Penny, and she begrudgingly agrees to travel back in time to get the taco, but of course, something goes terribly wrong…and now you’re in Ancient Egypt. There’s kind of a very loose narrative about wanting to get this taco back, and jumping through time…but really, it’s a very light narrative.

You mentioned a call-back to the taco from PvZ…will there be other call-backs and easter eggs that you haven’t mentioned yet?

There are a few. Obviously, there are a lot of plants returniung from PvZ, but most of the zombies (with the exception of the basic zombies) are brand new. But, definitely some of the new zombies are going to feel familiar with similar game mechanics and in the 4th world, you’ll see a ton of call-backs to the original world, which will be a lot of fun!

“Time to quash the swash…bucklers!”

What was the most challenging aspect of bringing new players in? Did you have to spend a lot of time creating tutorial levels for the core game, as well as the level modifications you mentioned?

When necessary, we’ll do a brief tutorial on the new mechanics, but we try to keep them simple enough that you can ease your way into it. One of the great things about the first game is that it’s tutorial was very invisible…the whole game was kind of a tutorial, right? As often as possible we strive for that: we introduce things gently, so that the player can learn for themselves what’s going on. I would say that the biggest challenge for the sequel was figuring out the balance of what people loved about the first game, while making sure that you’re moving it forward…and that there’s something new. We did struggle with that for a while…you know, the other reason it’s called Plants vs. Zombies 2: It’s About Time is because we are poking fun at the fact that it took us awhile to to put out the game. But that’s really just because we were trying to figure out how to get it right. For no other reason than that it’s hard to make a sequel to a game that was as universally beloved as PvZ. We did a lot of experiments for a long time, until we settled on something that was really going to work. The key for us, was finding that balance between making sure we had the familiar plants that they knew and loved, but also make sure that the game feels fresh. One of the ways we did that was with a new mechanic called Plant Food.

“Camels? Camels.”

Plant Food?

Plant Foor is a powerup that drops from zombies, and you can stockpile it or spend it to give temporary bonuses to the plants. If you put it on a Pea Shooter, he rattles off like 60 peas in two seconds…a total barrage of peas streaming across the screen. If you put it on Sunflowers, she generates a ton of sun really quickly, so you can max out your economy. There’s a different effect for every plant in the game: that way we were able to bring back the old plants, but also make them feel fresh and new. There’s something new to discover with each plant, and I know people will have a lot of fun experimenting with Plant Food. Plus, it gives you new ways to be engaged with the game, instead of just sitting back and watching what happens.

With Plant Food in mind, how difficult is the balancing? I mean, couldn’t someone stockpile Plant Food, then overclock all the Sunflowers and then make a massive army?

Just like with any game, there will be balancing aspects. To compensate for Plant Food, we had to change a little bit about the structure of the game. I think that players will find that it isn’t that different—it’s more in the “late game” stage of each level that we’re able to throw more surprises at you, and hit you with some crazier things. You can’t just sit back and watch the action in PvZ 2…you’ll eventually hit more interactive elements in the middle- to late-game.

Have you guys given any thought to extra progressive difficulty or challenge modes? With a hardcore fan base comes the inevitable complaining about it being “too easy”…

There are really a wide range of challenges in the game. Each world has a map, and on the map you’ll play through a main spine of levels which takes you through an introduction of all the new plants and zombies for that world. But then, you can replay those levels again to earn stars, and there are star challenges that get progreessively harder. Then there’s always the side-paths, which we call “Brain Busters”, and they’re modes that tweak the rules just a little bit. There’s one called “Save Our Seeds”: the boards starts with plants already on it, and you have to protect them…it you lose a plant, you lose the level. There’s another one called “Locked & Loaded” where we choose which plants you get to use, so it has a very puzzle-y, strategic feel: how will you win without Sunflowers, or without forward shooters? I would honestly be very surprised if anyone says that there was nothing challenging in the game. We tried to make a good mix of what was approachable as well as what was insanely challenging…

“WikkiwikkiWild Wild West!”

We at the office haaaaaaaaaate Angry Birds…and because of their newest Star Wars inclusion, they’re suddenly back on top again. Can we hope to see a Star Trek tie-in with the PvZ franchise? Y’know, just to really stick it to them?

(laughs) No, there’s nothing in the pipe right now. We feel like the franchise is really strong on its own, and we already have a really wide cast of characters that we want people to become familiar with. We’ll start there and see where it goes!

How has the fan interaction been at the Con? How are people digging it?

Great! It’s always surprising to see how many people really love the game…especially for developers. We’re off in the studio toiling away, and we don’t often get the chance to interact with the fans, so it’s really refreshing to see people who really love the game. It’s really energizing for us!

“Pieces o’ Brain!”

Final thoughts?

Wow. We covered a LOT! Well, to reiterate: this is just the beginning of Plants vs. Zombies 2. We’re launching with three worlds, and we’ll be delivering new worlds to players as often as we can. Hopefully, a couple years down the line, this will be a massive game with dozens of worlds! It’s a pretty great game, and we’re all really proud of it. I hope everyone has as much fun playing it as we did making it.

 

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Mick
Author: Mick View all posts by

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