PopCap Spills Their Guts About Plants vs Zombies: Garden Warfare

For years now EA has been trying to come up with a COD killer, with little success. Both Medal of Honor and Battlefield have failed to measure up to the monolithic shooter franchise, and EA looks to be running low on IP that can be turned into modern shooters. Still, the company isn’t done taking stabs at the FPS giant, and their next big, Frostbite-powered multiplayer shooter is aiming to skewer it mercilessly. But rather than taking an existing IP and turning it into a COD clone, Plants vs Zombies: Garden Warfare is built to parody the whole modern shooter concept. EA may not be able to take the Emperor’s crown, but they’re about to make it look like he’s got nothing else on. Also they’re coming out with something called “Titanfall,” but that’s small potatoes, and those potatoes don’t even explode!

As a series, Plants vs Zombies has always had its tongue protruding through its rotted cheek, and looking at it now there’s no question that this sort of parody is a good fit for the brand, but the leap from tower defense to shooter isn’t exactly an intuitive one. In a recent interview, Brian Lindley, the game’s producer, told me that “the seeds for the idea were planted” (his glorious pun, not mine) back when they were porting the original PVZ to mobile devices. Apparently that got them thinking about how the series could work on a bigger budget. When EA purchased Popcap back in 2011, a bigger budget is exactly what they got, along with access to EA’s development facilities and the world-class Frostbite engine.

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The 2 year journey to Garden Warfare’s impending release wasn’t an easy one. Porting PVZ‘s iconic 2D art style to 3D took a lot of time and effort. The game evolved from a cel-shaded style to a more detailed, full 3D look that takes better advantage of Frostbite’s strengths. When it came to designing the characters, the art team started with the iconic plants – the Pea Shooter, Sunflower, Cactus, and Chomper – which already had very distinct and memorable personalities of their own. Based on that work, they strove to give the playable zombie classes a similar level of personality and charm.

That charm’s certainly come across in the game’s marketing, which has spoofed a number of EA’s banner franchises including Medal of Honor, Mass Effect, and Dead Space. There were some glaring omissions from the original campaign – Mirror’s Hedge seems too good to pass up – but Lindley said they came up with a few parodies that they didn’t execute on, and there may be a few more surprises in the future.

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Lindley cited TF2 as a huge influence for the game, and in that vein you’re given a wide range of customization options for your plants and zombies. Each class of character has 5 variants that can be unlocked by accomplishing things in-game – you get one for advancing to level 10, and the others through a grind that seems similar to TF2’s drop system. You might expect to see a lot of microtransactions to speed unlocking along, but at launch there actually won’t be any at all. Lindley said Popcap is planning to look at player metrics and listen to feedback, and introduce microtransactions if there’s a need for them.

Right now Garden Warfare is only slated for launch on Microsoft platforms – Xbox 360 and Xbox One, with a Windows version coming at a later, as-yet unannounced date. As far as hitting other consoles goes, Lindley says Popcap wants to see the game played by as many gamers as possible, but they have nothing to announce at this point. Garden Warfare seems to be one of the better technical performers on Xbox One, clocking in at a respectable 60 frames per second and a native resolution of 900p. Xbox owners can get their hands on the game this coming Tuesday, while PC gamers can expect to play it sometime later this year.