Plants vs. Zombies is a tower defense action video game developed and originally published by PopCap Games for Microsoft Windows and Mac OS X. The game involves a homeowner using many varieties of plants to repel an army of zombies from "eating their brains". It was first released on May 5, 2009, and made available on Steam on the same day. A version foriOS was released in February 2010, and an HD version for the iPad. An extended Xbox Live Arcade version introducing new gameplay modes and features was released on September 8, 2010. PopCap released a Nintendo DS version on January 18, 2011 with content unique to the platform. The PlayStation 3 version was released in February 2011 also with added new co op and versus modes found in the Xbox 360 version. An Android version of the game, exclusive to the Amazon Android App Store, was released on May 31, 2011. On February 16, 2012, a version was released for BlackBerry PlayBook. Furthermore, both the original Windows and Mac version of the game have been re-released with additional content in a Game of the Year version. The game received a positive response from critics, and was nominated for multiple Interactive Achievement Awards, alongside receiving praise for its musical score. A sequel was announced in August 2012 and is currently set for release in Spring 2013.
In Plants vs. Zombies, players place different types of plants and fungi, each with their own unique offensive or defensive capabilities, around a house in order to stop a horde of zombiesfrom eating the brains of the residents. The playing field is divided into a number of horizontal lanes, and with rare exceptions, a zombie will only move towards the player's house along one lane (the main exception is if it has taken a bite out of a garlic). Most plants can only attack or defend against zombies in the lane they are planted in. In later levels, players can purchase upgrades so as to adapt their lawn mower to new environments like pools or rooftops.
The game uses several different level types and layouts. The game starts out in a front yard, and progresses to nighttime levels, where the gameplay is more challenging, with no replenishing sun unless specific plants are used, the backyard is visited, with a pool added, and the final levels are nighttime pool levels (where fog fills the right half of the screen except when specific plants are used), a lightning storm level in pitch black (except when illuminated by occasional flashes of lightning), and rooftop levels (on the final level, the player must face a huge robot operated by a zombie known as Dr. Zomboss). Sporadically through the game, the player is either warned through a letter by zombies or addressed by Crazy Dave to prepare for an ambush, where the game takes on a bowling style, using Wall-nuts to bowl down zombies, or a modified version of regular levels, where random plant types come up on a small selection, and the player can use the plants without spending sun.
The zombies also come in a number of types that have different attributes, in particular, speed, damage tolerance, and abilities. Zombies include those wearing makeshift armour, those that are able to jump or fly over plants, and a dancing zombie which has different designs depending on the version that is able to summon other zombies from the ground. At various points the player will be inundated with a huge wave of zombies.The player starts with a limited number of seed pack types and seed pack slots that they can use during most levels. The number of slots can be increased through purchases with in-game money. At the start of a level, the player is shown the various types of zombies to expect and given the opportunity to select which seed packs to take into the level. Several plants are nocturnal, such as mushrooms, having a lower sunlight cost, and are ideal for nighttime levels. Certain plants are highly effective against specific types of zombies, such as the Magnet-shroom, which can remove metallic items from a zombie, such as helmets, buckets, ladders, and pogosticks.
The primary game mode is a single-player, multi-player and Adventure mode in which the player can earn money to spend at an in-game store to buy new seed packets and other bonuses.
The game also features extra modes that are unlocked as the player progresses through the main adventure. These include a survival game with hard or normal mode, a puzzle mode, and a selection of mini-games which include zombie-themed versions of other PopCap games like Bejeweled. The game also features a Zen garden, where players can care for plants they acquire from successes in game play. The in-game store also carries items that help with the Zen Garden. The PlayStation Network and Xbox Live Arcade version of the game includes 5 multiplayer modes, both co-operative and competitive, additional mini-games and a virtual house where players can show off their achievements to friends.
Plants vs. Zombies director George Fan intended on balancing the game between a "gritty" game and a "sickeningly cute" game. Strong strategic elements were included to appeal to more experienced gamers, while keeping it simple to appeal to casual gamers, without many tutorials. He was inspired to make it a tower defense game after both thinking of a more defense-oriented version of a previous title of his, Insaniquarium, and playing some Warcraft III tower defense mods. While he was looking at the towers in Warcraft III, he felt that plants would make good towers. He wanted to bring something new to the genre withPlants vs. Zombies, and he found common tower defense game play elements such as mazing and juggling to be too awkward, causing him to use the five and six lane set-ups that were used in the final version. The game was initially going to be called Weedlings, but as the tower defense concept took off and the personality of the game as a whole evolved, the title was later changed.
Fan included elements from the trading card game Magic: The Gathering while teaching his girlfriend Laura Shigihara how to play it, showing her how to customize their decks. That inspired him to include the seed packets as opposed to using a conveyor belt that produced randomly selected plants, due to the complexity of this system. Another influence on Plants vs. Zombies besidesWarcraft III and Insaniquarium was Tapper, crediting the use of five lanes to this game. Various members of PopCap Games contributed to the development of Plants vs. Zombies through an internal forum where they gave feedback.
Some of the characteristics that defined Insaniquarium influenced the development of Plants vs. Zombies. Players advance in a similar pace by receiving new plants. Also, the way plants are chosen at the beginning of each level was derived from the way pets are chosen in Insaniquarium. Other inspiration for the game's mechanics came from the film Swiss Family Robinson, especially where the family defends against pirates. This was the inspiration for the Potato Mine; Fan stated that it was satisfying to watch a zombie step on the mine, being defeated and covered in mashed potatoes.
The team wanted to bring back the aliens from Insaniquarium, but in the end were changed to zombies, which players could react to more easily because of how slowly they moved. Fan's favorite zombie was the Pole Vaulting Zombie, due to the hilarity involved when a player encounters it for the first time, using a specific example where a player tries to block it with the Wall-Nut, only to have the zombie jump over it.
During development, it was discovered that newcomers to the genre of real-time strategy may have a hard time learning the concept behind sun collection. So, the price of sunflowers was dropped from 100 to 50 to encourage players to buy them over the peashooter. As a result, the balance between plants and zombies had to be restructured—a move that Fan said was definitely worth it.. Programmers focused on Adventure mode for much of the first year of development. Upon finishing some items ahead of schedule, one of the programmers, Tod Semple, began working on ideas that would later be used for the minigame section. Some ideas for the puzzle mode section would later be tweaked and moved into adventure mode; "Vasebreaker" and "I, Zombie", for example, came from single-level minigame concepts. During testing, Fan found that minigame and puzzle modes seemed to detract from the focus on Adventure mode, so some of the additional modes and minigames were locked requiring advancement within adventure mode to become unlocked.
Fan stated that every game he worked on had only him designing the prototype, adding that he used to draw a lot before he made games, where he made pixel art. The final designs of the zombies and the first plants are similar to how they were initially. After searching for an artist, they discovered Rich Werner, who Fan thought clicked with what he intended for the design. He attributed the intrigue of the design to its animation scheme; Tod Semple suggested that they animate it in Flash and export it into the game. Fan worried that this would look like it was cut out from paper, and would resemble South Park too much, but was satisfied in the end, attributing this to Semple and Werner's talents.
Fan was most proud of the Tall-nut, Torchwood, and Cob Cannon plants. He explained that the Tall-nut has character, citing its "determined gaze" and how it sheds a single tear when hurt. Laura Shigihara could not stand to see this, and protected it with a protective plant called a Pumpkin, which can protect plants inside it. He felt that the Torchwood required players to think of how plants interacted with each other. The Cob Cannon went through many design changes, but Fan was happy with the final design. Another favorite plant of Fan's was the Squash, due to how well it explained its purpose, to squash things. A plant was proposed that is similar to the defensive item Umbrella Leaf, which would be planted above other plants to protect them from airborne zombies. However, it was difficult to visualize their positions.
The soundtrack for Plants vs. Zombies was composed by Laura Shigihara. It borrows elements from the pop music genre, as well as console chiptunes. Before the inception of Plants vs. Zombies, Fan asked Laura if she would like to compose the music for his next title after following her for some years. She accepted, owing to his creativity. Shigihara described the music as "macabre, yet goofy". Using the night stage as an example, she used a combination of "Big Band" and swing beats with "several haunting and serious melodies". The songs "Loonboon" and "Brainiac Maniac" were written towards the end of production. She stated that these were reactionary songs that she wrote to fit the feel of the game after having played through it twice. She tried to make the game have a Danny Elfman feel to it, while mixing in melodic tunes and funky beats. She describes a song early in the game, which uses marching band percussion and swing beats. She described another one which used techno beats with organic sounds. Shigihara also composed and performed the music video shown during the credits of the game, titled "Zombies on Your Lawn".
Plants vs. Zombies uses many cultural references in its names of stages and others. The gravestones' inscriptions ("Expired", "Ceased to Exist", "Just Resting", etc.) were taken from Monty Python's "Dead Parrot sketch". Three of the mini-games—"Zombiquarium", "Beghouled" and "Beghouled Twist"—take their names from two other PopCap games (Insaniquarium, Bejeweled and Bejeweled Twist respectively. Two levels in "vasebreaker" puzzles "Scary Potter" and "Ace of Vase" take their names from Harry Potter and Ace of Base and in "I, Zombie" (a reference to Isaac Asimov's "I, Robot") puzzles there is a level called "Dead Zeppelin" which resembles Led Zeppelin. Originally, the dancing zombie resembled Michael Jackson from the music video "Thriller". Though the Jackson-inspired zombie was present in the game before Jackson's death, the estate of Michael Jackson objected to its inclusion more than a year after his death; PopCap agreed to remove the Jackson-inspired zombie and replaced it with a more generic disco-dancing one for all future patches and releases of the game. Ironically, a "disclaimer" in the game's almanac states "Any resemblance between Dancing Zombie and any persons living or dead is purely coincidental." Some Plants vs. Zombies advertisements parody controversial Evony ads, showing a drooling zombie instead of a voluptuous woman.
Several PopCap games are referenced in an Easter Egg, where if the player scrolls down on a certain menu (which varies on the device playing the game, and does not even exist on the earlier PC versions) they can find various objects from such games as Peggle and Zuma's Revenge.
A planned name was Lawn of the Dead, a pun on the title of the George A. Romero zombie film Dawn of the Dead. For legal reasons it was changed to Plants vs. Zombies. It spent three years in development, and was released for the PC on 5 May 2009. Since it was released, it has been announced for multiple platforms, including PlayStation 3's PlayStation Network, Xbox 360's Xbox Live Arcade digital distribution service, Nintendo DS, and iOS.
The song "Loonboon" was inspired by composer Laura Shigihara's cat, which they named Metroid. She explained that the stage she was composing for was frantic, so she watched Metroid as he ran around the house, jumping off walls and playing with his toy mouse. "Brainiac Maniac" was inspired by older Capcom games, specifically those in the Mega Man series, describing its songs as melodic and complex. She was inspired to make the Plants vs. Zombiesmusic video by her desire to make a theme song for the game. She specifically chose the Sunflower to be the one singing by wanting to have it communicating with the zombies. She later suggested that it be made into a funny flash video, and Rich Werner and Tod Semple, an artist and programmer, respectively, from PopCap came down and worked on it. Once it was completed after two weeks of work, the PopCap marketing team enjoyed it enough that it used it as a marketing tool. Previously, there were no plans to release the soundtrack as a stand-alone item, but Shigihara stated that she wished to do it, so she thought there was a good chance of it. In November 2010, Shigihara released the soundtrack through her Bandcamp page. Individual tracks are sold at USD1 per track or US$10 for the full album. It comes with a cover art designed by George Fan.
Plants vs. Zombies itself was referenced in "The Passing" campaign of Valve's fellow zombie game Left 4 Dead 2, in which the player can stumble upon in-game graffiti attributed to the character of Crazy Dave. A five-level quest chain culminating in a quest entitled "Lawn of the Dead" in the massively multiplayer online game World of Warcraft: Cataclysm is based on Plants vs. Zombies, using Warcraft elements to recreate the gameplay. Blizzard Entertainmenthad contacted PopCap about the inclusion, and Laura Shigihara was able to record some new music for the Warcraft version of the game.
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Plants vs. Zombies has received a positive reception from critics, garnering an aggregate score of 88/100 from Metacritic and an 89.5% from GameRankings. IGN editor Andy J Kolozsy commented that it featured a lot more content than other games in the genre, as well as praising its addictive nature. However, the DS version was criticised for its lower quality graphics and expensive price point. GameSpot editor Chris Watters praised the design of the plants and zombies, as well as the visuals and its overall value. However, he found fault in the learning curve. 1UP editor Alice Liang found the game enjoyable, commenting that the lawnmowers that protect the left side of the screen strikes a good balance between ease-of-use and indepth game play. Edge's review praised PopCap Games for adding an imaginative touch to every little detail of the game. He also credited them for taking the tower defense genre and making it their own.
Laura Shigihara's music video also received praise, with Hatfield attributing his interest in the game to the video. Liang also praised the song, asking how anyone could not want Plants vs. Zombies after seeing the video.
To date, Plants vs. Zombies is the fastest-selling video game created by PopCap Games. Plants vs. Zombies director George Fan estimated that half of the game's sales are from hardcore gamers. According to PopCap, the iOS release of Plants vs. Zombies sold more than 300,000 copies in the first nine days it was available on the App Store, generating more than $1M in gross sales, and considered it "the top-grossing iPhone launch".
Plants vs. Zombies has been nominated for the "Casual Game of the Year" and "Outstanding Achievement in Game Design" Interactive Achievement Awards from the Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences. The game received nominations in "Best Game Design", "Innovation", and "Best Download Game" for the Game Developers Choice Awards. Plants vs Zombies was picked by Gamezebo as one of the 'Best games of 2009'.
A Plants vs. Zombies board game was revealed at the 2011 American International Toy Fair. Being produced by Screenlife, the 2–4 player game is expected to be available in late 2011. A version of the game was added in patch 4.0.3 of World of Warcraft which used similar mechanics as a homage to the popularity of the game. A reward of a non-combat pet sunflower is given to those who can beat the minigame. The success of the game has led to the creation of Plants vs. Zombies lottery tickets. True Blood has referenced the game twice in Season 4. In Episode 5, "Me and the Devil", a guard in Bill Compton's office is playing the game on his phone, and in "Cold Grey Light of Dawn", a guard outside of Marnies' cell is playing the game on her iPad. Since the game was partially inspired by the Magic: the Gathering card game, a Magic card called Grave Bramble has been released in the Innistrad expansion. It is a Plant with the Protection from Zombies ability. Zen Pinball 2 for PlayStation 3 and PS Vita and Pinball FX 2 on Xbox 360 feature a Plants vs. Zombies pinball table.
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