In one of the most unique interview venues on GIZORAMA, we chatted with Plants vs Zombies 2 Creative Director Jeremy Vanhoozer while on a helicopter tour of Seattle, and got to see the “terrifying note” posted by PvZ zombies on top of the Space Needle. We discuss some new mechanics in PvZ2, Good Guy EA, and PopCap’s future.
JW: To start off, what was your role in the creation of PvZ2?
Jeremy: I’m the Creative Director, and basically oversee everything that has to do with the PvZ brand. I approved the artwork that we use for the game as well as for promotions and other game-related events.
JW: The name of the game is “Plants vs Zombies 2: It’s About Time”. Just how long has this game been in development?
Jeremy: It’s been about 5 or 6 years since the first PvZ, and it certainly feels like we’ve been working on this for that long, but I would say this iteration has been in the works for 1-1/2 to 2 years.
JW: Can you tell everyone about some of the new aspects of the game that set it apart from the first PvZ and other tower defense games in general?
Jeremy: One of the things I’m excited about is the plant food animations. Basically, you can give plant food to a plant, and it supercharges the plant. Each plant has a unique animation and ability when given plant food, and it makes gameplay more interesting. It also adds a lot more personality into the game. I want players to enjoy discovering all of the different abilities of the plants.
JW: One of the things that has been commented on is the change to a free-to-play system. Why did you decide to go that route, especially when you did so well with a PvZ that was pay-to-play?
Jeremy: Going free-to-play was something that we wanted to do at PopCap, because we have faith in our game. We have worked very hard to produce a polished, quality game. Nowadays, it’s really easy to just put out a poor-quality free-to-play game and try to make money from microtransactions, but that’s not what we wanted to do. We value and trust our players, so what we wanted to do was give them a high quality game, and then make it accessible to even more people. It’s free, so it removes the bar that stands in the way of trying out a game you have to pay for, and gets it into the hands of more people. We have delivered a complete game, but we trust that people might want to explore even more areas, or have fun with extra power-ups.
JW: But you can still play through without paying a cent?
Jeremy: Right. Like I said, it’s a complete game, so you can finish the game without having to spend anything. But if you want to unlock some extra worlds or play with more power-ups, that option is there as well.
JW: So what are we looking at here?
Jeremy: This is the note that the zombies have left on the Space Needle. It says they are about to launch an all-out attack on the city. You don’t really have to worry though, because our zombies are pretty stupid.
JW: Who put this all together, and why here?
Jeremy: Our marketing department wanted to do something to show how proud we are to be a Seattle company. We love this city, so we wanted to establish a connection with the Space Needle. This isn’t just a one-time event. We are actually working on future events with the Space Needle, too! Besides being a promotion, this event is a celebration for the developers. They all went to the very top of the Space Needle and got to look out and see a guy in a zombie suit putting the note up. That’s probably the biggest zombie head ever.
EA actually helped a lot with this event, as well. It’s thanks to them and their resources that we can do these helicopter rides, and we can have these sorts of promotions. It would be a lot harder if PopCap had to do this all itself. They’ve helped with organizing everything, so we don’t have to stress too much about the event.
JW: PopCap has a good reputation, especially in regards to how they treat their fans. EA’s reputation, on the other hand, isn’t as great. What’s your perspective from working with them?
Jeremy: I’m not going to defend all of EA’s policies and decisions, but for us, working with them has been great. They have resources around the world which has helped us immensely. They have genuinely tried to help us, because both of us want the game to succeed. I’m flying to Germany on Friday to promote PvZ2, and they already have a logistics team there who is organizing everything. I know they get this rap as a huge, evil corporation, but in a company so large, it’s going to be hard to change certain policies, and steer it all in the right direction. They’ve provided PopCap with a lot of help over the years. Also, regarding our players, we want to tell everyone that we have worked really hard on this game. No game is perfect, but we really care about our fans and players, so we wanted to give them the best quality we could.
JW: So what are PopCap’s plans for PvZ2, and for the company’s direction in general? Are you going to be expanding out into any other genres?
Jeremy: We’re already working on an expansion for PvZ2. We want to keep developing the game. There’s usually a break between a game and an expansion, but we want to make that as seamless as possible. We’re going to keep pushing out new worlds and other new content for a while. Right now, the PopCap is focusing on a few of the major projects, so there’s PvZ2, Bejeweled, Peggle 2, and we have Garden Warfare coming out in the first quarter of next year for the next gen consoles. As for expanding, we’re always looking for new ideas for games. We have a company seminar called PopCamp, where we get a bunch of creative people and just bounce ideas for games around. But we’re mainly focusing on the major content out now and on the horizon.
Thank you, PopCap, for the highest interview I have conducted! I had a great time, and it was fun talking with you guys.
If you haven’t downloaded Plants vs Zombies 2 yet, go do it now! PvZ fans should also stay tuned for more trailers and developer blogs for Garden Warfare, which will be released on the next generation of consoles. Visit their Facebook page and give them some love!