Interview: How Plants vs. Zombies: Battle for Neighborville is going to the next level

 

Popcap’s Plants vs. Zombies shooters have got a fair few fans out there, and for good reason! They’re built around some solid head to head and co-op multiplayer, there’s plenty of inventive character classes that encourage team play, and they’re bright, cheerful and deliriously over-the-top in a way that all Plants vs. Zombies games are.

Their latest shooter, Plants vs. Zombies: Battle for Neighborville is rampaging toward release like an angry anthropomorphic oak tree. The final game is out on 18th October, but the game went into an unusual early access phase with the release of a Founder’s Edition at the start of September. Unluckily for you, the Founder’s Edition is no longer on sale, as Popcap are now preparing to put the final touches on the game for launch.

Still, with two weeks to go between now and then, there’s plenty to dig into, from the game’s renewed social elements to new character classes. We were able to put our questions to Rob Davidson, Game Director at Popcap Vancouver, and Live Producer Shaun Laker.

TSA: One of the strengths of the two Garden Warfare games was being able to take some of the latest trends and inspiration from the rest of the shooter world and twist them into a distinct feeling PvZ package. For Battle for Neighborville, what were some of the key new ideas from the last few years that you wanted to explore?

Rob Davidson: We really felt our brand was perfect to push the boundaries of a fun and interesting social region. This social region is called Giddy Park and it’s where you’ll start and end your game sessions. We’ve also gone all-in on the fun and wacky narrative that the Plants vs. Zombies brand allows and delivered 3 free-roam regions filled with characters, quests, collectibles and puzzles.

On top of this, we’ve got new Team Play characters where you and up to 3 others can link up and work together to vanquish opponents. On the Zombie side, Space Cadet transforms into a Space Station. On the Plant side, Acorn transforms into an Oak. The other Acorns act as turrets on top and can heal the Oak.

TSA: Were you at all tempted to make this a Battle Royale?

Rob: It didn’t feel like the right fit for us. Our brand rules are that Plants don’t fight plants; zombies don’t fight zombies. Right out of the gates, there’s a pretty hard blocker to how it fits into our game. And then, we really wanted to hone in on the PvP game that our previous shooters have already established.

TSA: With six new character classes to make for twenty in total and ten per side, how are you ensuring that they bring something meaningful to the mix? Have you made any adjustments to any existing characters as well?

Rob: We’ve been listening to fan feedback on our characters from the previous titles as we wanted to improve them for Battle for Neighborville. During production, we’ve updated so much of their core design that progression from previous games wouldn’t fit in with our current systems. Every character and their unique abilities have been tuned or changed altogether.

Also, the look and style of our characters have gone through a complete overhaul along with customizations and upgrades built for them. Our new progression allows players to customize their characters exactly how they want and choose upgrades that make the most sense for their playstyle.

TSA: The Festivals were described as being a Battle Pass, but for free, yet outside of being seasonal they feel quite different conceptually. How are you going beyond the traditional Battle Pass structure?

Shaun Laker: We’re very excited about our fresh take on a seasonal reward mechanic. First off, we have diverging paths where players can choose the rewards they want to chase based on the decisions they make – like a Mario Party map. They’re also different because these Festival Prize Maps and rewards will be refreshed each and every month and will reflect our Plants vs. Zombies holidays! These same holiday themes will give a fresh look to Giddy Park, Dave Manor and Zomboss HQ.

TSA: If the Festivals are free, and you’ve also promised they won’t contain any blind box loot, where does further monetisation fit into Battle for Neighborville? And can you guarantee that they won’t impact the gameplay?

Shaun: We decided early on that Plants vs. Zombies: Battle for Neighborville would not contain any paid/MTX loot boxes. While this might work for other titles we felt it wasn’t a fit for Battle for Neighborville and our audience. We’ll have more details in the coming months on monetization.

TSA: With a live service model for the game’s post-launch support, do you plan on bringing back any of the older maps from the series, or modes that don’t make the cut for day one?

Shaun: Right now we’re focused on nailing the Founder’s Edition and polishing for launch. We will be sharing longer term plans closer to that date about how we want to continue supporting the game with Features, Maps, and more…

TSA: The staggered release for Battle for Neighborville is a strange one, even by EA’s standards! What purpose has it served and why was it the right choice compared to a more traditional series of beta tests?

Shaun: Only available until September 30, the Founder’s Edition was an early edition of the game where players could be part of the community that battles for Neighborville ahead of launch on October 18th. With the Founder’s Edition, players have hands-on  withsix weeks of weekly content releases and earn exclusive rewards for the first four weeks when logging in. Founding Neighbors also got a $10 discount for the Founder’s Edition as your progress rolls over to the Standard Edition at Worldwide Launch on October 18 for no additional cost.

We’re polishing performance for Founding Neighbors as they play to ensure the scaled experience is running at peak levels for launch and beyond. 

TSA: Finally, why the change of name? Are you as afraid of the number 3 as Valve?

Rob: So much has changed from our previous shooter. Every game session begins in Giddy Park, our fun and wacky amusement park. Accessible through Giddy Park are the humongous free-roam regions for both factions – all wrapped in the narrative of Battling for Neighborville. There are no phobias of three, we just felt a name change was appropriate for this monstrous game we’ve created that’s based in Neighborville.

Thanks to Rob and Shaun for answering our questions. Battle for Neighborville. We’ll be delivering our final review in due course, but for a glimpse behind the curtain, make sure to check out our preview from the game’s Founder’s Edition release.

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I'm probably wearing toe shoes, and there's nothing you can do to stop me!

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