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'Plants Vs Zombies: Garden Warfare' full interview with PopCap Games

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Examiner has run a series of articles on Plants Vs Zombies: Garden Warfare all week long based on an interview with PopCap Games Producer Brian Lindley. The full interview for the Xbox One and Xbox 360 multiplayer title due out on Feb. 18 is posted below.

Examiner: How are All-Star Zombies determined?

Lindley: Anyone can choose to play the All-Star zombie. You don’t have to do anything special, you just choose that character. He doesn’t really provide any sort of boost to the other characters, if you want to play the heavy tank style of character class; the All-Star is your man.

Yeah he moves a little bit slower in terms of his default movement speed, but he’s got the most health out of any of the zombies and can take a fair number of shots before he goes down. He’s got a sprint tackle ability, which when he gets in short range situations with plants, he can kind of lower his shoulder and do a shoulder charge move. If he hits anybody with that, he does a ton of damage and knocks them back and disorients them a bit. So yeah he is really dangerous in the short range, and his weapons are pretty effective from the medium range.

An interesting thing about Garden Warfare is the design of the plants and the zombies are kind of asymmetrical. So we haven’t really designed an equivalent All-Star character on the plants side, but we do have character classes like the Chopper, who is a bit slower, has got the most health, and is a very melee-focused character on the plant team. He is the closest equivalent because the other plants are more agile and a bit less hefty. So it’s kind of interesting that there isn’t an exact specific equivalent character design on either side. We’ve designed them with different sets of abilities.

Does Garden Warfare have more Call of Duty parodies?

We do have an online co-op mode that we’ve called it Garden Ops, so if you’ve played much Call of Duty in recent years that might ring a bell. Beyond that, the majority of that stuff is obviously the names of a fanatic parody and other things, but we’re not just about poking fun at Call of Duty, we also poke fun at other shooters as much as we can. I think you’ve seen a lot of that in our trailers and some other things that we’ve released. We’re not about taking ourselves too serious at all (laughs).

Will the 24 player battles on the Xbox One be included in the Xbox 360 version of Plants vs Zombies: Garden Warfare? How does Garden Warfare’s Boss Mode takes after Commander Mode in Battlefield 4?

No we’re actually supporting 24 on both Xbox One and Xbox 360 at launch, so it’s 12 plants and 12 zombies going at it. The Xbox One does have some other exclusive features because I think you mentioned Boss Mode in your question. That’s where we really start to differentiate the platforms and provide a different mode of play. In Boss Mode, you’re looking at the top down view, trying to support your team, as if your playing Commander Mode in Battlefield, for example. It’s done in a style that feels a bit more easy and light-hearted.

A little bit, its pretty simple and straightforward with what you’re doing and what you’re playing in Boss Mode is your collecting resources. If you’re playing on the plants side, you’re collecting sun and you’re saving that up to deploy support abilities to the battlefield for your teammates. So that’s going to be things like little radar dishes that can automatically spot enemies while they’re nearby, healing stations, revive stations and then the most offensive thing you can do while playing Boss Mode is call in artillery strikes. We’ve had those branded a bit for both the plant and the zombie side. On the plant side, it’s a big cherry bomb strike, and then on the zombie side, we call them Zom-Bomb strikes, but they’re basically bombs that have been smashed into traffic cones that come flying down from above and blow up. That’s the primary role of the boss, to be the eye in the sky and kind of help out the team wherever he can.

Are Artillery strikes unlimited or do you have to charge them up?

If you’ve collected a lot of resources you’ll be able to fire those off. They do have a bit of a cool down time, so you can’t just go one after the other. They’re definitely the most costly from a resource perspective. I think they’re 200 to 250 sun, for example. So you have to save up if you want to deploy one of those. You’ll only be able to do it every so often.

With split-screen off-line, was that more of a benefit for players or something Xbox One could do that 360 couldn’t?

It’s actually both. The Xbox One gives us the horsepower to do proper split-screen mode, whereas on Xbox 360 it wouldn’t have been possible without severely compromising frame rate and quality and stuff like that. It’s one of those things where with next-generation hardware we’re like, ‘yeah we can do split-screen and we can hold the frame rate and make it look really good.’ That’s the primary reason that it exists on Xbox One only.

What are the biggest differences between Xbox One and Xbox 360?

Obviously having more power is a big one. It’s amazing; we’ve been working on these current-generation platforms for eight years now. The games look great, but just taking that next leap in terms of resolution and frame rate that you can get with the extra processing power is probably the biggest thing. The thing that excites me the most about Xbox One and the new platforms is how a lot of the online and social ecosystem features are building up within the platforms, and not just within the games themselves. Things like the game DVR, the party system, and stuff like that where a lot of games on Xbox 360 and PS3 had to build a lot of that stuff. It’s now coming to life in the platform, as opposed to just individual games and I think that’s the most exciting thing. People can share video of their experiences with a couple clicks. I worked originally on the Escape franchise for EA, just digress a minute. We built our own video sharing feature directly into the game, but we had to build all of that ourselves, and now that’s just the kind of thing you get free with these new platforms, which is pretty exciting.

How do environments in Garden Warfare differ from each other?

They differ pretty greatly, I think what we’ve shown a lot in our initial assets is sort of our realization of the backyard suburbia where you play the original PvZ, but obviously realize a 3D environment. That’s just the beginning for us and it gets crazy from there when you look at the variety of our maps. So you’ll be fighting in backyards and graveyards, but then we shift that into zany commercial districts with humor shops and restaurants. One of the craziest looking play maps is actually a coastal town or village with tons of interesting seaside landmarks and lots of interesting gameplay around that. There are things and big set pieces we haven’t shown extensively yet, where the gameplay changes and you get to see our version of Battlefield’s Levolution in some respects. But we’re just having some fun with it, as far as making it PvZ goes.

Yeah they will and the mode will also have an impact as well. When you look at our biggest scale mode, Gardens and Graveyards, that’s a mode that requires a lot of teamwork. It’s larger scale so you have to be strategic about choosing your path and your approach to the bases of the plants you’re defending. That mode provides a lot more of a team-based experience. When you look at other modes like Team Vanquish and its maps and levels, everything is a little bit more contained and it plays more like an arena style match. The mode’s style is about playing faster, running and gunning. It definitely changes style, a lot of the things we try to do is change verticality, so the coastal level I was describing earlier features a lot of interesting vertical elements. Zombies are fighting down a hill, plants are defending down on the seaside and we’ve got a lot of cool landmarks that provide more vertical gameplay.

Does each map provide upgrades or bonuses for players?

Most of that is based on the character customization system, but every map has unique placements for different things like a teleporter. One of the things we have in our Gardens and Graveyards map is the engineer zombie can blast in front of the team and deploy teleporters that allow the rest of the team to get much closer to the objective when they respawn. That changes things up quite a bit and then every map has its own special finale or moment. We try to create these unique gameplay opportunities. Some examples of that would be in one of our suburbia maps, we have a big mansion at the end where the zombies need to dodge a bunch of walnuts coming down the hill in order to get up to the mansion and take the base. In the coastal level we’ve got some pretty crazy stuff where the zombies are shooting themselves across the sea to an island that has a big lighthouse where they are trying to take down a big sunflower. That’s where the personality of the maps comes to life in that last objective and we change the gameplay a bit.

Do we take games too seriously at times?

Yes I absolutely would [like to see more light-hearted games release]. For us as a team, it’s actually been really liberating to focus on making a game that’s really just about making you smile versus kind of wowing you with big set piece moments. I absolutely think the more we can inject humor into these experiences, the better. At the end of the day, it’s about having fun and enjoying yourself, and yeah, you get that when you have serious, competitive, immersive experiences, but it’s also fun just to sit back and have some silliness and zaniness injecting itself into the experience from time to time.

Will there be any cross-play between Xbox One and Xbox 360?

No, every platform will play against that particular platform. So Xbox One players will always play against Xbox One players, and the same for the Xbox 360.

How hard is it to convey humor in a game?

It’s hard, especially if you’re trying to do it through dialogue and story. That can be really difficult because writing things that seem funny to a broad audience is just a challenge. What we’ve tried to do is not really take that direction. Where we try to inject the humor is in the characters, in the world and in the gameplay as much as possible. When we design a character item, a piece of customization or a new character class, we try to use the barometer that if it makes you smile, laugh or both, then that’s probably good enough. People get a kick out of the engineer, he’s got some saggy pants on him, for example, and the funny, different variations we can bring to the character classes is really where the majority of our humor comes from. For us, it’s a bit easier because that’s drawing pictures and making those come to life as 3D things, versus trying to write something that feels witty, funny and all that you would get with more dialogue and narrative.

I think it can be, it really depends on what tone you’re going for. Are you trying to be a bit more harder edge with your humor or are you trying to be more silly and fun loving about it. I think the other thing that messes with that is everyone around the world is playing games, but sensibilities surrounding humor is different wherever you go. Some of those things don’t really translate. One thing may be funny to someone in North America, but it may be unfunny to someone in Europe, which makes that brand of humor harder to translate. I feel like we’re doing a good job because we’re focusing mostly on the characters and presentation, and trying to make all of that as funny and humorous as possible.

As we’ve designed a lot of our customization, our lead designer, and myself we disagree all the time about what we think is funny. ‘Is a guy wearing a plunger as a hat. Is that funny? I don’t necessarily think so, but he thinks that’s hilarious.’ We have this huge variety of customization items that are really silly and kind of out there, some of them I don’t find funny, but the rest of the team just loves it. So hopefully there’s enough of that stuff out there that everyone finds something that makes him or her smile.

Is there much of a difference between 30 FPS and 60 FPS?

I think it depends on the type of game. When you’re playing a game, like a shooter, that requires a lot of fast reflexes, that frame rate difference and the feel of that experience between 30 and 60 can be quite a bit different. When you’re just playing something that isn’t quite as moment-to-moment, then what you typically do is you put more visual effects and processing on the image when you’re running at 30, you get more motion blur and more of a cinematic feel. When you’re running at 60, it’s all about the responsiveness and the speed of how it feels to play that experience. I’m kind of with you, 30 versus 60 for me on most games, if it looks good and the frame rate is not dropping significantly, I’m happy, but I think hardcore gamers can see and tell the difference. It really just depends on your sensibilities as a gamer and how much frame rate matters to you. When you sit there and you look at 30 versus 60 side-by-side, you definitely notice a difference, but when you’re just sitting there on your own playing a 30 frames game and without any comparison, it still looks and feels great. It’s a very subjective thing and I’m with you on that where frame rate is good and it’s not dropping or stuttering, then I’m typically pretty happy.

Could PvZ: Garden Warfare hit the PS4 later down the line?

We haven’t announced any plans yet for any additional platforms outside of the PC, but the way I typically answer that question is we want to get this game in the hands of as many people as possible. Obviously, we’re exclusively first on the Xbox platforms, but I think in the coming months players will see some announcements that will please them depending on their platform of choice.

Are there plans for post-launch DLC content? New modes or characters?

Yeah that’s a big part of our plans once the game is live and out there. We want to continue to push new content, add and expand the experience as we go. I can’t get into a lot of detail because we still are working out the plans on that, but our goal is to keep players engaged and keep a steady stream of content coming so players always have a reason to come back and experience something new.

Absolutely, I think that’s one of the areas we really want to expand more once we launch. One of our primary priorities is we want to add more modes and maps, and want to provide more ways to play the game.

Do some people miss the local split-screen multiplayer?

A couple generations ago, most games had some sort of local multiplayer support and I think with this last generation or two, online multiplayer really came to the fore as part of console gaming. I think that took a lot of the focus away from local multiplayer. To me, it feels like it’s swinging back the other direction, not that online multiplayer is less important, but trying to figure out how you have that couch play experience, and if you can support it with your game, it definitely adds huge value for players when they’re deciding on which games they want to buy. Speaking for myself, I think in the younger days online multiplayer is what I want to do the most, but now that I’m older and you have kids and you’re trying to figure out ways to get other friends and children involved, then it comes back to local multiplayer. I would love to see more split-screen and local multiplayer experiences come to life.

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