Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare 2 – Justin Wiebe Interview

Popcap Games gave us a sneak peek at Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare 2, and we had the opportunity to chat with Creative Director Justin Wiebe to ask some of our burning questions.


Travis Northup: For the players who haven’t interacted with any of the Plants Vs Zombies games, including Garden Warfare 1, can you give us a brief summary of what Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare 2 is?

Justin Wiebe: So Garden Warfare 2 is Plants Vs Zombies as a third-person shooter, where we’ve taken a collection of fourteen different character classes and have given each of them special weapons and three special abilities, and have tried to create a world and atmosphere where they can battle each other, either through competitive multiplayer, with a friend through splitscreen, teaming up with up to three other buddies cooperatively.

TN: Speaking of cooperative play, this game has online splitscreen, right?

JW: It’s not online, it’s local splitscreen only, but it can be played across every single game mode. So you can basically have your friend join you and start in the backyard battleground. You can explore everything, do all the little minigames like “Crazy Targets” or “Flag of Power,” and you can dial into any competitive mode you want. So, let’s say you like Team Vanquish, but don’t like playing online. You and your friend can go in, set some AI teammates, decide what kind of AI you’re fighting, and even create unique scenarios, like “I want to play all engineers against all sunflowers! And I want to give everybody super speed boost and low gravity!” So you can customize your rules, but we wanted to make sure that splitscreen could be played across the entire game, instead of one mode, like it was in Garden Warfare 1.

TN: And it’s just two-player splitscreen, correct?

JW: Correct.

TN: Will there be custom matches for Garden Warfare 2?

JW: Yes. We’ll be supporting custom matches for up to four players online, plus AI. You can all be either on the same team, or split up and facing off against each other. You can also choose to turn AI off, so if you just want 2v2, then you can do that. Or, if you want to, you can just say “It’s me and my Chomper AIs against two of my other friends.” You can basically mix-and-match your AI and all of the crazy settings available to you. My favorite thing to do, because I’m a big Rainbow Six fan, is to turn off all of the AI on my team, so that it is just me and my friend versus twelve AI, and we just see if we can work together to weather the storm. It’s all about mixing and matching the different rules to create fun different scenarios for you and your friend.

TN: So obviously, you guys have flipped the script in Garden Warfare 2, where the zombies are now in control, and they’re defending against a plant invasion. How much of the story will we see in Garden Warfare 2?

JW: When Garden Warfare 1 came out, it was really a multiplayer game, so we didn’t focus much on the story. We just put players in fun, competitive battles in the fight for suburbia. This was the first thing we decided we wanted to change in Garden Warfare 2; We wanted to bring more personality to the characters, and to bring them more to life. So we wanted to introduce new character classes like Citron, the bounty-hunter orange from the future, or the imp, who can basically call in this mech that has been engineered for him by Dr. Zomboss. Then, by giving them backstories, and turning them into characters you can meet in the backyard battleground, you get to interact with them and do quests for them, which we call our Solo Play Quests. So now you get to learn a little bit about the lore, and about the universe, and you get to have a lot of fun in your backyard, doing a lot of different types of things.

TN: So far we’ve learned that there are character levels, and they gain XP as you play. There are bounties you’re completing, quest lines, and there are quest-givers who will be giving you additional quests. So my question is: How much of an RPG is Garden Warfare 2, as opposed to its predecessor?

JW: That is a really good question. It has started to take on some forms, mainly in that we’ve taken the best things we love from RPGs, like the storytelling and the quests, and then tried to wrap them up under what I would still call an action-oriented game. It is sort of straddling the line where it is an action-shooter for sure, but it now also has a lot of RPG qualities that I hope will engage players more in the universe and fiction, and just keep them coming back for more. You mentioned the quest board, and I think completing quests or challenges is great, because if you know the board is refreshing every day or so, you want to keep your XP multiplier high, and you want to see what kind of new quests you are going to be challenged with when the next rollout comes.

TN: Okay. So, there are seven base classes in each faction, plants and zombies, right? Including the subclasses, how many characters are in Garden Warfare 2?

JW: We have over 100 characters. 14 character classes, 100 characters.

TN: How many customization options are there?

JW: Over 4000 collectible customizations. Then we’ve also got a whole bunch of unlockable abilities, and a bunch of legendary characters and items that will be harder to get. We really wanted to create a scenario where bragging rights were something rare and cool to show off. It was just really important for us to bring it to that next level, because I’ll tell you, when I think back to my days of playing World of Warcraft, when you saw someone running around with this giant glowing mace on their back, you just think “How the heck did you get that?!” And then you realize what you have to do – How hard it is, how rare it is – It just creates this sense of desirability. We just wanted to infuse some of that into Garden Warfare.

TN: The big reveal today was the backyard battleground, which turns Garden Warfare 2 into a shared world experience comparable to Destiny. Can you explain that for the people who don’t know about it?

JW: So if you look at Destiny, and specifically at The Tower, where you’re meeting merchants, purchasing gear, taking bounties; Then you look at Patrol, where you’re actually in the field, earning XP, finding loot, and doing quests. You mash them all together, and you get one universe where the plants and zombies have their own bases, and all of this is sort of mixed in. It creates this area that’s basically pure gameplay, where you can buy items and customize your character, and then go start a fight. And the more you engage the enemy, the more you’ll start to become the catalyst for a bigger battle. And the more you take them on, the more things will escalate on the opposing team, and the more things will get out of control. It’s a very dynamic system. So even if you’re not interested in quests, and you wanna just fight, you can. Gameplay was at the forefront of what we wanted to create for the backyard battleground.

TN: How does matchmaking work in Garden Warfare 2? Is it level-based, skill-based, or something else?

JW: We’re still working on it, to be honest. The most important thing is that you can connect to a strong server. The second thing will be looking at player skill, and making sure you’re matched with players of a similar skill level.

TN: Will the bosses from Garden Warfare 1 be returning?

JW: The majority of the bosses will be returning – I can’t actually think of any that won’t be coming back. In addition, we’ve added a whole array of new bosses that you can fight in Garden Ops and Graveyard Ops. Graveyard Ops we actually had to build from the ground up, because the plants didn’t really have an army. We had to think of what the plant equivalent of, for example, a browncoat would be. And it’s a weed. You can’t stop weeds, right? And so we just went through the lineup – You’ve got weeds, you’ve got your hero classes, which are the standard characters that players play, and then you’ve got your boss characters. There’s a few of those that I really love, such as Giga-Torchwood, who’s a giant, flaming tree. We’ve got Super Bean, who’s like Laser Bean from the original Plants Vs Zombies 2, and he can basically fly around with a cape and shoot lasers. There’s just a ton of new bosses.

T: I believe I saw a zombie holding a house?

J: That’s a Shield Gargantuar. We thought we’d have a little fun, because the zombies always hold strange things to attack, and we wondered what Gargantuar would hold. Well, a house.

T: (Laughs) What are you personally most excited about in Garden Warfare 2?

J: I’m really excited for people to get into the backyard battleground and start uncovering some of the mysteries and secrets that we’ve put in there. I think there’s a lot more that is going to be revealed as players get in there. We really wanted to tease people with what the game has to offer, and let them get in there and experience it for themselves.

T: Going back to story, will there be cutscenes in Garden Warfare 2?

J: There are a couple of cutscenes, but a lot of the story is delivered through text, and just talking to the characters themselves. It’s a little bit of a step back, looking at games like Zelda, games where you get quest information, and then as you’re doing the quest, you get cutscenes that give you more information on the story and what you’re currently working on.

T: Thank you for your time, Justin!
Plants vs. Zombies launches on Feb. 23rd, 2016 on PS4, Xbox One, and PC. Players can take part in the beta on Jan. 14th, 2016 on PS4 and Xbox One.

You know that jerk online that relentlessly trash talks you after every kill? That guy was probably Travis "Tie Guy" Northup. Competitive, snarky, and constantly wearing a tie, Travis has been writing his opinions about electronic media since he was a teenager, and is pretty much the only person to hold his opinions in high regard.

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