With the game not out until 23 February 2016, there’s still plenty of time for Electronic Arts to fine-tune what was arguably one of the biggest surprise hits of 2014. And with a renewed focus on fine-tuning what people already loved about its budget priced predecessor, Plants Vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare 2 will release with a whole slew of improvements – like improved graphics, new story and weapons modes, significantly more playable characters etc. Indeed, such is the level of EA and PopCap Games commitment towards their upcoming third person shooter that the publisher and developer have both promised extensive free DLC updates that players would be able to enjoy post-release. Of course, with games like Splatoon stealing much of the franchise’s thunder in recent times, it would be interesting to see as to how Plants Vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare 2 counters Nintendo’s threat in a niche that it had all to itself until recently. And to find out this and more, I spoke to Chris Fox (Lead Games Designer, PopCap Games) who told me a little bit more about the game.
I know Plants Vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare came out before Garden Warfare 2, but since then Splatoon has come out. Given the relationship that Electronic Arts has, or doesn’t have with Nintendo, in what way do you think Plants Vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare 2 will be able to mitigate the Splatoon threat?
I think it’s great that more accessible shooters like Splatoon are on the market. Splatoon is a Wii U game and we’re coming to PlayStation 4, XBox One and PC in 2016. So I think there’s lots of room for accessible fun shooters in the market today.
Does that also mean, given the fact that Nintendo are primarily focused on their own console, that maybe there’s a little bit more pressure on you as a developer to be able to placate non-Nintendo owners?
I don’t think so, no. We’re just focused on making a fun game that anyone can pick up and play and have a great time with.
In what way do you think Garden Warfare 2 will build upon the success of Garden Warfare 1?
I think the fan response for Garden Warfare 1 has been tremendous. It has allowed us to really take what we’re trying to do a step further. We’re building bigger, crazier worlds. We have our fully interactive Backyard Battleground hub. It’s really empowered us to do all of the things that we wanted to do.
In what ways would you be able to answer the sceptics that, like FIFA which is almost kind of like a “re-skin” every year, that Garden Warfare 2 would be able to stands on its own legs?
I think the amount of new content we’re constantly adding… the 6 brand new character classes with 40 brand new variants total. We have 12 brand new maps. We have 8 game modes. The Backyard Battleground is something that’s totally new for Garden Warfare. The first game, you access the various multiplayer modes via a menu. Now it’s a living world that you can play with your friends. I think we’re doing a lot of new things to bring new players in and make returning players quite happy.
Going back to Splatoon… Nintendo have ensured the longevity of their title by releasing new map packs on a timely basis. In what way will you be supporting Plants Vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare 2 post launch?
So Garden Warfare 1 had tremendous success with free content updates post launch and we will continue that with Garden Warfare 2. We’ve released new maps, new characters, new game modes, new customizations and that’ll continue for Garden Warfare 2, absolutely.
With people comparing Splatoon to Plants Vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare, and with Nintendo Wii U owners not having access to Plants Vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare, but still finding a worthy substitute in the form of Splatoon – which I’m sure took a few ideas from your own franchise – in what ways have you been able to incorporate some of the ideas from Splatoon and ensure that you are able to bring the best non-Nintendo third person multiplayer shooter to competing platforms?
I think as a designer [and] as a studio who are making a third person shooter, it’s on us to play all games, play all shooters and find the things which work best and make them our own and come up with the cool new ideas. I think Splatoon is a tremendous game and we’re really happy with what we’re doing with Garden Warfare 2. I think there’s plenty of room for both games to appeal to the more casual shooter market.
This is almost like a Nintendo related question again, so forgive me, and I kind of know the answer to this already. Given the [lack of] relationship that Electronic Arts has with Nintendo, primarily due to their performance with the Wii U platform and even though Nintendo are making big waves with regards to the NX, will Garden Warfare 2 be coming to the NX in the foreseeable future… bearing in mind that the NX will also [most likely] be coming out next year?
That’s not really something that I’m in a position to comment on. I mean, I’m the designer of the game who is just trying to make it the coolest experience possible. Trying to make Garden Warfare 2 as awesome and as fun for everybody.
But ultimately as a designer, you must be looking to capitalise on every system’s core strengths. So if you were to develop for the NX, how would you go about ensuring that the core experience is able to translate across faithfully to a future Nintendo platform?
We’re always looking to bring Plants Vs. Zombies to as many people as possible, but it’s too early to say what the future may hold in terms of additional platforms and new hardware.
What about the existing platforms that you’ve spoken of? The PS4 obviously has its own set of features with the Camera Eye, and the Xbox One platform has the Kinect. Will your game be taking advantage of these systems in terms of their own unique strengths?
We don’t have any features planned for Kinect or PS4 Camera.
So, basically the same experience across all platforms?
Yes, absolutely. The same experience across all three platforms.
It’s a multiplayer game as we know… is there any way for players to be able to play across different systems like Rocket League?
No plans for any cross-platform play right now.
I know Microsoft have made big waves with regards to Windows 10 being almost cross-platform and cross-play. Will you be supporting that in any way?
I’m not sure on anything like that. I’m just the designer. It’s too technical. I don’t know anything about that.
What your plans for the future of the franchise?
Right now, we’re focused on just making Plants Vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare 2 as great as possible. The game is not coming out until Spring next year so there’s still lots of work to do.
Why Spring? I mean, most companies try to release products for the Christmas break. Why have you decided to delay [the game until then] because Spring isn’t really that “busy” and people have already spent their money by then?
It’s not a question of delaying it. Garden Warfare 1 launched in the same time frame and we had great success there.
Was it initially successful or was the success over a consistent period of time?
We’ve had consistent success from launch until now.
So the game’s had a long long-tail?
It’s been very long. Quite steady…
Given that you’re working for a major AAA Publisher, and I’m not referring to Electronic Arts specifically, but major AAA publishers have to answer to shareholders who want a quick return on their investment. How do you feel about being supported by a AAA publisher who ultimately has to answer to its shareholders who don’t really have that much of an inclination to play the long [tail] game. You’ve stated that the game has been really successful and it’s had a tremendously long long-tail, but this strategy goes against conventional AAA publisher thinking which tends to look at a game’s short-term sales over say… 2 weeks.
Honestly, that’s not something I’m too concerned with. Working for PopCap and for Electronic Arts has been the most creatively liberating design position I’ve had. The things that we do on Garden Warfare are ridiculous and crazy. Any fun idea we want to have… as long as it works, as long as it is fun, we’re free to do it. We have a great time making Garden Warfare.
So it’s not necessarily a case of the publisher [Electronic Arts] interfering with your creative decisions?
No. It’s a collaborative process and it’s been very, very successful and fruitful for us.