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GDC 2014: The Art of Reanimating Plants vs. Zombies 2

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Plants vs. Zombies 2: It's About Time was a serious undertaking for PopCap Games. The original Plants vs. Zombies created a large following, and a true sequel had to do much more than recreate the magic from the first game. Mark Bennett, an artist for PopCap, revealed the creative, crazy, and oftentimes unholy processes endured in the making of Plants vs. Zombies 2. From humble beginnings on a farm, to a road trip across the nation, and finally a journey through time.

Initial Beginnings

Many of the members of PopCap games who created the first Plants vs. Zombies were interested in moving on to new projects. A newer and less experienced team was brought in to create a new concept for a game. The mission was to reinvent the classic: to make a sequel that could live up to the name.

New gameplay features and assets were brainstormed, including a new ability for plants called Supercharge. The team wanted to allow players to explore more of the word.

Concepts and Theme

When brainstorming ideas for the main location of Plants Vs Zombies 2, the team settled upon the idea of the game taking place primarily on a farm. This was a perfect background to the variety of plants that the player would control. Zombies were themed after various outfits, including farmer overalls, with pitchforks and wooden buckets. The environments consisted of farmhouses, open fields, and other rural areas.

However, the team soon found that the farm was too limited of an area to properly 'explore'. There were too many open world maps, and the initial farmhouse setting was too similar visually to the location of the first game. The team then toyed with an idea of a road trip. The zombie outbreak would be global, and this would provide the perfect opportunity for a variety of environments and to give players the feeling of progression.


Before long, the team finally settled on a time traveling theme, where new ideas for zombies could be easily utilized. The zombie types were adapted into new eras, allowing players a quick visual cue to the zombie's behavior. On normal zombie enemies, there is the presence of a tie around their neck. The basic zombie types in all of these different areas also included a neck accessory. Pairing this with a similar pose, it was easy to show players through the art that the zombie behaved in a similar manner to the basic zombie.

New zombie types were drafted within each of the areas to help provide more personality and challenge as the game progressed.

Updated Art Style

The original art to Plants vs Zombies was updated in transition to Plants vs. Zombies 2. The original game had a illustrative approach, while the second game had more of a graphic approach. The illustrative approach allows for the showing of thinner lines and slightly more detail, but made it difficult to smoothly animate. Updating the visual style for the plants and zombies involved creating the art in flash, with bolder lines. Many original designs were altered slightly to give them more shape and definition.


Creating the art of Plants vs Zombies 2 in Flash allowed a seamless transition into the animating realm, with rounder shapes and brighter colors gaving the game much more personality.

The key takeaways from the art direction of Plants vs Zombies:

  • Do not replace the core elements that make your game recognizable
  • Find ways to optimize the look, both through visual and gameplay elements.

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