Here’s the skinny on FarmVille 2

After officially announcing FarmVille 2 at June’s Zynga Unleashed event, Zynga is finally gearing up to release the game this week. We sat down for a hands-off preview of the game with VP of Games Tim LeTourneau and the game’s Director of Design Wright Bagwell.

According to LeTourneau, the central concept behind FarmVille 2 was, “If you were going to make FarmVille today, what would it look like and how would it play?” Bagwell notes the game’s design team is built of several veterans from the traditional video game industry, and FarmVille 2 was designed in order to create a social game they’d enjoy playing.

Upgrades galore

The most immediate upgrade to the game is its visual presentation. As opposed to other social games from the developer, FarmVille 2’s sporting a brand new 3D engine. As soon as the game begins, players can see dynamic effects in action like grass waving all over the screen. Likewise, moving the mouse over items, people and animals will generate a reaction; examples of this included rustling crops on the screen, causing a chair to rock back and forth and getting animals and characters to look up at the player.

Meanwhile, LeTourneau and Wright point out the user interface is much easier to use thanks to the game’s new “painting” system. This takes the place of clicking on individual squares on the game map when a player wants to do the same activity over and over again; instead, a user can click on a single square and then drag their mouse over multiple others. Once this is done, the player’s avatar will go to work. Zynga also made use of Flash 11 to add depth to the controls, like using the spacebar to rotate items for placement and enabling a right click feature.

 

Mixing new gameplay in with the old

The farm-sim gameplay will feel immediately familiar to anyone who’s played the original FarmVille or similar games over the past few years, including the usual planting, nurturing and harvesting mechanics, as well as clearing plots of land in order to expand one’s property. However, Zynga has incorporated a number of new elements into the sequel to make the game feel fresh.

First of all, the game eschews energy mechanics entirely: So long as players have the necessary raw materials (like feed for the animals or water and fertilizer for plants), they can work their farm for as long as they like. The game’s ecosystem makes everything interconnected: In order to make feed, crops have to be harvested and ground up; the feed is fed to animals on the farm, which then generates things like fertilizer, milk and eggs; these materials are used to craft items like pies and scones; the food can then be sold at a player’s roadside stand.

There’s also a village grocer who will show up and provide players with a “To Do” list of crops he would like harvested, based on the types of crops they are growing. This list is customized and unique to each player, containing three tasks of increasing difficulty.

The game’s social mechanics are, for the moment, the usual set seen in these types of games. Players can visit friends’ farms and perform duties in exchange for virtual goods. Also, Facebook friends can be recruited to work on a player’s farm. When we saw this in use, it was as simple as picking up one of these friends’ characters and dropping them onto a set of crops in order to assist with the farming. However, LeTourneau and Wright say there are plans to take the village sitting in the background of the game’s canvas and turn it into a social hub but are unable to provide us with specifics right now.

Learning from the past

FarmVille 2 is the first major sequel for Zynga since Mafia Wars 2, which bombed shortly after its launch. Mafia Wars 2 launched in October 2011 and quickly peaked with 2.8 million daily active users. By December 2011, the game was already down to under a million DAU, and now it’s sitting at the 50,000 DAU mark. This failure was called out during Zynga’s last earnings call, and CEO Mark Pincus called it “a learning experience.”

In this case, though, Zynga’s starting on surer footing. FarmVille is the game Zynga is generally associated with; likewise, even though it’s one of the company’s older titles, FarmVille is still the No. 10 game on Facebook with 3.9 million DAU. By comparison, Mafia Wars was already on its way out from the public eye when its sequel launched, itself with fewer than a million DAU.

Additionally, FarmVille 2 is launching in far more territories than its predecessor did (FarmVille was originally only available in English). The sequel will be localized for various regions and will launch with an Arabic-language version. Until now, FunPlus Games’s المزرعة السعيدة (“Happy Farm”) has been the most successful farming sim with 2 million DAU. With FarmVille 2 coming to this market, it’s very possible Zynga have its game dominating it in a matter of days, based on the success seen when it turns cross-promotion for a specific game on.

FarmVille 2 is launching on both Facebook and Zynga’s own platform, Zynga.com.