Interview: How Plants vs. Zombies: Battle for Neighborville is squeezing onto Nintendo Switch

When it launched at the end of 2019, Plants vs. Zombies: Battle for Neighborville was a solid continuation of the Garden Warfare games, sprinkling the spin-off series with modern concepts like in-game seasons of content and battle passes to work through.

Now Battle for Neighborville is coming to Nintendo Switch as a Complete Edition tomorrow, wrapping up all of the previously released seasonal content into a neat, definitive edition of the game.

Between the timing of release and the challenges of bringing the game to Switch in general – it’s the first time that Frostbite has been used on the console! – we had plenty of questions to put to PopCap Games’ producer Melvin Teo.

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TSA – The announcement of Battle for Neighborville for Switch was a bit of a surprise. Why now?

Melvin Teo – First of all, we’ve always wanted to bring Battle for Neighborville onto the Nintendo Switch, even from the very beginning of the project. The Plants vs. Zombies series is in many ways a perfect fit for this console: it’s tons of fun, quirky and humorous, highly accessible and very family friendly. This is only the second ever PvZ game to be launched on a Nintendo console, and the first from our PvZ third person shooter series. So, for many players who only have the Switch as a gaming console or it’s their preferred gaming destination, this is their first real opportunity to play Battle for Neighborville.

In terms of timing, we knew that when it came to the Switch version, it needed to be good. We wanted to make sure we gave it the time, attention and focus that it deserves. So, we’ve had to wait for the right opportunity and team in order to do so, but we’re thrilled with how it turned out. Fans of PvZ have been asking for it for quite some time, and it’s finally being released on March 19. Ultimately, I would say it’s better late than never.

TSA – Battle for Neighborville will be the first time that the Frostbite Engine has been used for a Nintendo Switch game. Frostbite’s got a bit of a reputation for being tricky to work with and always targeted the cutting edge. How has the porting process been?

Melvin – The process of bringing Frostbite to the Nintendo Switch has been very rewarding for us for many reasons. Of course, the team is proud to deliver the first ever Frostbite game on this console. Along the way, there have been many technical challenges to solve and decisions to make, but we have also learnt a tremendous amount about the Switch platform and how to optimize the Frostbite Engine accordingly.

This development cycle also presented some unique challenges, but we overcame them as a team and learnt a lot along the way. We had started some initial preparations for the possibility of full remote development when things began to look a little unsettling, but it was still a shock to the system when the global pandemic hit and we could no longer work together in the studio. It required us to quickly adapt to working from home which was unfamiliar to most of our team. We are however extremely fortunate to be part of an industry that allows us to do so, and I’m grateful for that.

We co-developed this title with QLOC S.A. who are an amazing studio with previous Switch porting experience, and we built a great working relationship with them. We also partnered closely with our quality verification teams in Romania and Vancouver, as well as the Frostbite technology teams who supported us throughout this journey. I’m proud of our entire team for pulling this off, and the quality of the game that we achieved.

TSA – What resolutions can players expect to see in handheld and docked modes on Switch?

Melvin – Battle for Neighborville will run at 720p in handheld mode and 900p in docked mode.

TSA – You’ve seemingly gone a step beyond what ports tend to get on Switch (even with Nintendo’s own!). What led to you integrating motion controlled aiming and touchscreen menu support?

Melvin – Our primary goal for this project was always to deliver a version of Battle for Neighborville that felt like it was tailor made for the Switch console. To that end, we tried our best to apply that principle thoughtfully across every single feature and improvement, including motion controls and touch support.

Top of the priority list for us was that the game needed to play well and look great. We’ve spent a lot of effort optimizing performance to hit 30fps – whether you’re playing with AI opponents or other players in online matches. It’s a delicate balance of course, and we’ve had to make some visual tradeoffs that we felt were worth the performance gains. But in general, we’ve maintained the look and feel of the game world, as well as the lovable charm and personality of the PvZ characters.

We also wanted to maximize the unique opportunities and features that the Switch console brings, especially with regards to its portability and user interactions like touch and motion. Other versions of Battle for Neighborville are online-only titles and require an internet connection to play, so we had to make some significant adjustments to our online and progression systems to support offline play for our free-roam regions, Giddy Park and private play modes. This was probably the single biggest change we made for the Switch version of the game, but we felt very strongly that it was necessary. It’s a major advantage and part of the magic of the console, which is the ability to play anywhere, anytime you want, with or without an internet connection.

Likewise, motion controls and touch menu support felt like they just made sense. Players have enjoyed using them on many other Switch titles, and in some cases rely heavily on those features especially for other third person shooters. Motion aiming in particular is something that feels very personalized, and so we added a whole bunch of settings for players to customize to their exact preference, including different sensitivity levels, whether roll or yaw is used for turning, and whether it applies when aim zooming or just in free look.

TSA – It’s a shame that cross-play won’t feature – and truth be told, never has for the game. It’s become a more and more common feature, but can you talk about what stands in the way of implementing it?

Melvin – We had discussed the possibility when first planning out the project, but decided fairly early on not to support either cross-play or cross-progression. I mentioned earlier that we needed to be razor focused on how to make this version of Neighborville feel like it felt right for the console, and that meant prioritizing offline support and Switch specific features like motion and touch controls.

The other key reason is that we wanted to maintain a separate economy to support the Complete Edition on the Switch. With the Complete Edition being the only edition, we wanted to include all post-launch content ever released for Battle for Neighborville in a single, all-in-one package, without any microtransactions or DLC. This meant removing Rainbow Stars from the game and allowing players to purchase the same cosmetic items, but directly from the Rux’s Emporium with coins. In tandem, we’ve also tuned our coin progression differently for the Switch version, halving the coin cost of items from the Reward-O-Tron-9000 and boosting the rewards you can earn from Private Play, which is something you can do even when offline.

TSA – Looking back on Battle for Neighborville’s run from release through to the Switch release, what was the thing you were most proud of with this project, and what was one thing you felt could have been improved?

Melvin – I’m a perfectionist by nature, so we could always do better! If I had to pick one [thing missing] for the Switch version, it would be the ability to play local split-screen co-op. But again, it was pretty clear early on that performance in that mode would be poor, and we wanted everything to be fun and highly playable, so that didn’t make the cut. Players can still team up with their friends in online co-op as well as multiplayer matches as a party.

I’m very proud of everyone on the team – they did some amazing work and really poured their heart and soul into making this not just a reality, but a version of Battle for Neighborville that is both faithful and additive to its original release in 2019. I’m also excited that we’ve included all the post-launch content and new feature improvements in the Complete Edition so they can be enjoyed by new players or returning players looking for a fresh way to experience the game. I’m looking forward to the community’s reaction when they finally get to try it.

Thanks to Melvin Teo for answering our questions. Plants vs. Zombies: Battle for Neighborville Complete Edition is out for Nintendo Switch tomorrow, Friday 19th March.

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