PopCap Games today officially revealed the social adaptation of its incredibly popular game Plants vs. Zombies with Plants vs. Zombies Adventures. At the San Francisco Game Developer Conference, we got to sit down with head of PopCap’s San Francisco studio Curt Bererton and Creative Director Mathilde Pignol to check out what gamers can expect to see. The company also officially confirmed Plants vs. Zombies 2 will release sometime early this summer, though we didn’t get the opportunity to check that game out.
Plants vs. Zombie’s impending arrival on Facebook has pretty much been the worst-kept secret in the games industry for the past year, with PvZ knockoffs regularly appearing on the social network and gaining popularity before getting shut down. Finally, though, PopCap is getting ready to launch a limited regional beta of PvZ Adventures, with a wider launch planned for later this spring. During this time, Bererton and Pignol tell us the studio will take the time to do some A/B testing with certain features before making final game design decisions.
As opposed to the original Plants vs. Zombies, the core gameplay in PvZ Adventures will see players defending a motor home from the cartoonish undead. The storyline takes place during these “Road Trip” missions; which occur in different settings (we saw both a post-apocalypse cityscape and a chasm called “Dire Spires”, though there seemed to be many more) and players can choose the difficulty of the level before they start.
The game is set to feature a number of new zombies and plants, of which we got to see a few examples. The new plants include the Beet, which deals heavy amounts of melee damage, and Aspearagus. Likewise, some of the new zombie types includes one wearing a barrel that then charges at full speed when the plants destroy said barrel and a “Mad Hatter” zombie that appeared to be heavily armored with a variety of headgear.
Zombie battles are presented in a 3D isometric format. Instead of having the zombies progressing in a straight line, there are often multiple winding paths leading to the motor home’s front door. Players choose a limited number of plants before the level begins and then place them along the pathways at strategic points to hold off the walking corpses. Clicking on the plants will provide a temporary range and power boost for a small amount of sunshine (which is normally used to purchase and place plants during battles).
A major departure from the original game, however, comes in the form of the town-building aspect. Players start out with a home on a block of property to defend from zombies; as the game progresses, they’re encouraged to explore adjacent property tiles and construct new buildings that will spawn resources. The town is also necessary for acquiring plants to use during zombie attacks: Players place planters on their properties and then plant seeds, which eventually spawn different types of plants over varying time frames. As new property squares are unlocked, explored and conquered players will gain access to new types of plants.
The town also provides an extra social mechanic. The usual ability to send mystery gifts to Facebook friends is still present, but the most attention-grabbing thing we got to see was the ability to visit other players’ towns and send zombie attacks at various buildings. If the paths aren’t sufficiently guarded, zombies can temporarily destroy a building and prevent it from spawning resources until it’s repaired. At the moment, players will be able to send one attack per day for free and can then pay a fee of hard currency if they want to attack a town more during that period.
According to Pignol and Bererton, the game’s been in development for over a year, starting out with a small team that gradually grew to 40 people. During the early phases of development, they say, the team actually built 11 different prototypes to see what would work on the Facebook platform. One prototype mentioned is described by Pignol as “Zombie Roulette,” which she quickly mentions didn’t work out.
“We learned something from every prototype,” she says, “even if it was learning just that something didn’t work.”
When asked if PopCap is considering putting PvZ Adventures out on other platforms — since the company’s already seen so much success on mobile devices — Bererton says it’s too early to say anything definite, but that PopCap is currently focused on getting it out on Facebook. After that, though, he acknowledges a mobile version of the game is certainly a possibility.
“A lot of people like to knock it, but Facebook is still an incredibly solid option,” Pignol adds, noting the huge number of users developers have access to.
Tower defense games on Facebook haven’t had much success attaining users. The most obvious comparison for the PvZ franchise on Facebook is Nexon and Antic Entertainment’s Zombie Misfits, which featured quality gameplay and production values but never was able to find much of an audience. Since then, it appears the game’s been shut down; a likely reason for its failure to thrive on Facebook is that its missions were often rather lengthy and didn’t provide the quick game experience most casual titles on the platform provide. That said, PvZ Adventures looks like it’s poised to succeed where other tower defense games have failed between its snackable gameplay and social mechanics.
“We’ve tried to focuse on laying the groundwork on the social elements, like laying the path and social elements with your friends,” Bererton says. “It’s not just PvZ with a leaderboard. There are leaderboards, but one of the things we were looking for on Facebook was that you’re connected with friends and can interact with them more than you could on mobile.”
Anyone interested in learning more about PvZ Adventures can visit the game’s Facebook fan page and should keep an eye out for #PvZAdventures on Twitter.