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Plants vs. Zombies GOTY Edition

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Announcement - Valve
This weekend save 80% off Plants vs. Zombies!

Zombies are invading your home, and the only defense is your arsenal of plants! Armed with an alien nursery-worth of zombie-zapping plants like peashooters and cherry bombs, you'll need to think fast and plant faster to stop dozens of types of zombies dead in their tracks.

Offer ends Monday at 10AM Pacific Time.

Shacknews - Andrew Yoon

While the titular plants and zombies of PopCap's Plants vs Zombies may get the most attention, Crazy Dave holds a dear place in our hearts. No longer content with selling over-priced seeds and fertilizer, Dave is pursuing a new career: rapper. (And given the economy, who can blame his moonlighting?)

PopCap has released his "first single" on iTunes today, and promises that all proceeds from the sale of the song will go to charity.

"Wabby Wabbo" is now available to download for 99 cents. It goes a little something like this:

All proceeds from the music purchase will go to Concern Worldwide, "an international humanitarian organization dedicated to tackling poverty and suffering in the world's poorest countries." The website lets you contribute directly--if Crazy Dave's tunes don't necessarily invoke your charitable ways.

PC Gamer






PopCap are going head to head with the X-Factor this Christmas. Crazy Dave aka. Cray-Z is the talent behind Wabby Wabbo. It's available to buy through iTunes now. Purchases registered between December 18 and December 24 will count towards Wabby Wabbo's Christmas chart rankings. PopCap mention that "approximately 55p of each 79p purchase" will go to the Concern Worldwide charity.



PopCap point out that Wabby Wabbo "is believed to be the first hip-hop single ever released to feature a yodelling solo by a Yeti zombie." It may also be the first hip-hop single ever released to contain just five real words ("heeey, gonna eat your braains"), and is probably the first to be performed by an animated character wearing a saucepan on his head. The official music video is above, which means you've probably heard it by now. What do you think?
Shacknews - Andrew Yoon

Of course Plants vs. Zombies was coming to the PS Vita. Considering PopCap's penchant to port their games to every platform imaginable, the addictive game developer needed to have a game ready for the Vita launch in February.

Plants vs Zombies will be distributed via PlayStation Network for Vita, and apparently it looks just like the SOE-ported version for PlayStation 3.

Of course, unlike the PS3 version, PvZ will feature touch screen controls in addition to the standard button controls. There's also Vita-specific online leaderboards. Otherwise, IGN reports that you're getting "more of the same," adding "not that there's anything wrong with that."

Given the straightforward nature of this port, it's unsurprising that other Vita features aren't being taken advantage of. It appears that there's no cross-compatibility between the PS3 and Vita versions: no transfarring, no cloud saves, and sadly, no single purchase for both versions. The Vita version may offer one bonus, however: a Platinum trophy, which the original PS3 version lacked.

Shacknews - Steve Watts

It must be a sign of the times and the increasing popularity of mobile games: PopCap has decided to revise its development process to start considering mobile interface options like touch from the very beginning. In a Gamasutra interview with senior producer of core IP Matt Johnston, he revealed that the company has had to rethink its design stages to make workflow and ports easier on the team for the long-term.

"We have a lead platform [for our unannounced game], but we're actually going to do something pretty different," he said, "which is we're going to build our game to be as accepting of the main, dominant input mechanisms out there. So we're going to build our game for platform A as the lead platform, but we're also going to build our game so that it also considers platform B, and that adaptation process is a little bit more smooth, and it's not as work-intensive."

Unpleasant Horse, Plants vs Zombies

Johnston says this new method should help the company bring out different versions of a game much faster, citing the long wait times between ports of Plants vs Zombies. He also mentioned that touch screen games are so pervasive, "you'd have to have your head in the sand to at least not consider."

PopCap's test-bed for experimental iPhone games, 4th & Battery, has also started influencing other areas. The company's recent Facebook title Pig Up! was clearly influenced by Unpleasant Horse, and Johnston isn't opposed to bringing that experimental sub-culture to other platforms.

Asked if they would consider 4th & Battery publishing non-iPhone games, he said, "We will eventually! It's actually our usual sort of platform philosophy, which is, we're going to make the game for the platform that makes the most sense." He says the games from 4th & Battery have just felt right on the iPhone, rather than a calculated marketing move. The label has been behind Unpleasant Horse and more recently the Make-a-Wish game Allied Star Police, both of which appeared free on the iPhone.

PopCap was recently acquired by Electronic Arts. Beyond touch games, it plans on bringing more games to Facebook, such as Plants vs. Zombies and Peggle..

PC Gamer
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title="Permanent Link to Smart Casual – How PopCap conquered casual gaming">PopCapfeaturethumb



Following the news that PopCap has been purchased by EA. We've decided to bring you a feature on the mammoth casual games developer that originally ran in PC Gamer UK issue 220.



Sitting on the floor of Benaroya Hall in Seattle, I’m depressed as hell. I’ve come to the Casual Connect Conference 2010 to hear the makers of casual and social games share their ideas, but in three days of lectures I haven’t heard a single idea about games.



Instead they’re talking about how designers don’t matter. They’re talking about how psychological tricks can turn their audience into zombies. They’re talking about how to use metrics to better monetise your mum. This isn’t just the industry’s business men and women talking, either; these are the people who actually make the games. At a point in history when a new and huge mainstream audience is trying computer games for the first time, our ambassadors aren’t interested in talking about how to make something fun.



The scene couldn’t have been more different three days earlier, just a few blocks away from Benaroya Hall at PopCap’s headquarters. They’ve been playing Risk with their office space for the past ten years, starting with just a couple of desks and expanding through their skyscraper in all directions. They showed me the workmen putting the finishing touches to their most recently conquered floor, where every wall is coated with IdeaPaint. It turns every surface into a whiteboard. Designers, programmers and artists will hole up inside each room for years – as long as it takes to make something great – and will literally cover the walls with game ideas.







Since 2000, PopCap have grown from three guys working from their homes to an employer of hundreds with offices in Seattle, San Francisco, Chicago, Dublin and Shanghai. Along the way they’ve made some of the most successful and beloved games on the PC: from Bejeweled to Peggle to Plants vs Zombies.



I came to Seattle not to be depressed, but to speak to the founders and designers of PopCap. Who are they? What makes them tick? How did they get to be so huge, and where are they going? What is the secret behind this very silly company? Like so many great stories, it starts with a game of strip poker.



In 2000, John Vechey, Brian Fiete and Jason Kapalka left their jobs at large online gaming companies to start their own. It wasn’t going well. The idea was to create browser games and make money from ads, but the dotcom bubble had burst and their first game was garnering complaints.



The game was Foxy Poker. “This is not in our corporate histories,” admits Jason Kapalka. “We thought, ‘We can do this thing, then we can sell it and take the money to do whatever.’ But we were still trying to do this advertising stuff where they wouldn’t allow nudity, so there was always some object interposed. There’s no actual nudity. We did get a lot of complaints because you had to play a long time to get to the final stage of undress, and when you did there were some vases and things.”







If strip poker seems an odd fit for PopCap, keep in mind that their company was called Sexy Action Cool. The name was taken from a Rolling Stone review quote for the movie Desperado: ‘Antonio Banderas is the ultimate in sexy action cool.’



PopCap’s history is filled with discarded names.



“It was a pretty good strip poker game,” says Jason, “But we found we didn’t really have the heart to deal with any of the porn companies because they were just too scummy. We abandoned our short-lived effort to be a company like that.”



Their first success came in the form of their next game: Diamond Mine. Today it’s called Bejeweled.



“I’d seen a game that used some similar rulesets to Bejeweled,” says John Vechey. “But there was no animation, no sound effects, and they had very indifferent rules. We simplified it and changed it and then I sent a link out, Brian did a version that was just circles, and then Jason added the gem graphics. So it was three days of boom, boom, boom. And then we had it.”







Is this just another case of a casual game developer making a derivative dollar? Sort of. Bejeweled certainly wasn’t the first of its kind, as John admits. The first match-three PC game seems to be Shariki, a 1994 DOS game by a Russian programmer called Eugene Alemzhin. On top of that core concept, Bejeweled added a timer and bonus points, but PopCap’s largest contribution was polish. Even in its most basic version, Bejeweled is testament to the human mind’s ability to be endlessly entertained by things that tinkle.



Struggling to make their advertising model work in the short-term, they tried to sell Bejeweled outright for $60,000 to EA. EA said it wasn’t even really a game. They turned to MSN Games, offering it for $30,000. Microsoft said no.



But they had a different idea. “Microsoft said they would do a licensing fee for $1,500 dollars a month,” says John. “We had two games at the time, we had Bejeweled and our second game, Alchemy. $1,500 a month times two is $3,000 a month. If we get about ten of these we’re actually OK, right? And our third game we licensed exclusively for $10,000 a month.”



Licensing instead of selling the game outright meant that they weren’t losing complete control. While Diamond Mine appeared on the MSN Games portal, they could also put it on their own site. The founders realised they needed a more public face, and that meant a company name that better matched their intended audience. They settled on the lid to a bottle of soda: a pop cap. PopCap was officially born.







“We ended up not being a great business, but for three guys it was OK. But then Bejeweled experienced disproportionate success to any money we were making, I think it was getting 50-60,000 peak users during the day. A lot of people were playing it, and it took a while for us to find the financial success behind that.”



They found it by offering a premium version of the game. You could play Bejeweled for free at any number of online portals – you still can, even sometimes still named Diamond Mine – but if you liked it, you could grab a downloadable version. After an hour’s trial, you could pay $20 to unlock it.



“Now we were making $30-40,000 a month just from that one downloadable version on our website,” says John. It provided stability for the company.



Rather than trying to build on that stability and grow the company, the founders were more concerned with having and making fun.



“Brian and I moved to Argentina for a couple months,” says John. “We were making money and we wanted to learn Spanish, and they had good steak and wine and we could work there.” At the time, PopCap still didn’t have an office. The three of them worked from home.







“We were having fun. We were making games. We’d spend four days playing Counter-Strike,” says John. “Well, Brian and I would spend four days playing Counter-Strike and lie to Jason. We’d tell him what we were working on was really hard. He didn’t understand technology at the time.”



Given such humble origins, it’s important to put the game’s success into perspective. Bejeweled has now sold over 25 million copies, and the series as a whole – which includes Bejeweled 2, Bejeweled Twist and Bejeweled Blitz – has sold over 50 million. It is a gaming juggernaut.



When their first office opened in 2002, they focused on hiring artists and other game designers. “We didn’t want to be anything more than a game developer. That was really the focus,” says John. They contracted George Fan – who would later make Plants vs Zombies – as employee number five. Sukhbir Sidhu, the designer of Peggle, was employee number eight.







“The first conversation I had with Jason when I talked about coming to work for PopCap, we talked about the kinds of games they wanted to make,” says Sukhbir. “I actually mentioned pachinko at that time.”



Pachinko is a Japanese sensation. The player fires a ball up into the machine as in pinball, and the ball then cascades back down, striking dozens of small pegs as it falls. There are no flippers to send it back up, but if it falls in certain pockets at the bottom, it triggers a jackpot that drops more balls. The balls that are won are then exchanged for tokens that can be traded for prizes.



Sukhbir had played a Godzilla pachinko machine that Jason had in his apartment in San Francisco. “It was really mesmerising and I couldn’t believe how fun it was. That experience always stayed with me,” says Sukhbir.



“The problem was it was all luck. The fun in pachinko is the gambling aspect of it – the thrill of it – even though it’s mesmerising it’s hard to get that same feeling in a game.”







Real development didn’t begin until 2004, when a coder at PopCap named Brian Rothstein developed a simple 2D physics engine. The talk quickly turned back to pachinko. Sukhbir thought that if they merged it with pinball or billiards, they could mix luck with skill.



“Brian created an editor that allowed us to create any kind of game like that. It was a 2D physics editor with bouncy ball physics, and we could put all sorts of objects in the game – we could put flippers there, we could do the shooter. So we ended up spending about three or four months prototyping different game ideas that were very pachinko-like, or very pinball like, or in-between. We were trying to find something that was fun, accessible, and simple."



Experimentation is key to everything PopCap do. For those first months, it was just Sukhbir and Brian working on the game – though John Vechey contributed a couple of prototypes. They’d try out some ideas, invite the entire company to play it, solicit feedback, and then iterate. I’ve yet to find another casual game developer that works that way.



“Jason was at Pogo.com and felt they weren’t making very good games because they were very structure oriented,” says John. “At Pogo to this day a game designer can do a prototype, but once they get a prototype they have to write a design doc that has every element and game design choice already made. Then a programmer programs it, and then the artist does the art.”







By comparison, Peggle was in a constant state of flux. “We got to a point where it was fun, but it was overly twitchy,” says Sukhbir. After that, “we stepped back and simplified it and had some spinning crosses instead of pegs. but it was impossible to anticipate where the ball was going to bounce.” And then, “We changed it to pegs, but it was always super frustrating.” Finally, “What if it was just 25 pegs you had to hit? I wonder if that would be fun.”



It was. Peggle finally took form after “about 300 variants.”



Four months in, with the concept now finished, they did the obvious thing: they spent another three years working on it. While they had their idea and it was fun, what they didn’t have was a theme. They had unicorn artwork on the main menu, and Ode To Joy played when you won a game, but obviously these were just placeholders. Keeping those things in would just be silly. What the game really needed was a Thor theme. And to be called Thunderball.



The idea was to mimic the artwork of pinball tables with Norse gods, oak wood, and fire. “50 levels of frost giants,” says Sukhbir.







Eventually they realised the charm of the original placeholder art. The design ethos became to “embrace the randomness.” The unicorn and rainbows stayed. They added a cast of other, equally bizarre characters. When the name Thunderball no longer fit, they changed it. To Pego.



PopCap’s history is filled with discarded names.



It was released as Peggle in 2007 after a development process almost entirely undertaken by a team of three, and found success with both casual game players and some of the hardcore. The latter came in part because of Peggle Extreme, where you cleared levels decorated with images of Half-Life characters. It was bundled on Steam alongside Half-Life 2: Episode Two, Portal and Team Fortress 2.



“We were worried when we did the Half-Life thing, because nobody really knew how these Orange Box buyers were going to respond,” says Jason. “Some of the comments we got afterwards were, ‘This is the gayest game I have ever seen, yet I cannot stop playing it.’”







“If you look at Peggle the wrong way it looks like something that’s been designed by a gang of idiots for their idea of a five-year-old.”



If Peggle softened up traditional gamers, it was Plants vs Zombies that made them completely fall in love with PopCap.



The company’s fifth employee, George Fan, was hired as a freelancer to make a downloadable version of his game Insaniquarium, in which you feed fish and protect them from attacking aliens. He worked on it for PopCap at night and spent his days programming Diablo III for Blizzard. “I don’t suggest that anyone does programming during the day and then go home and do programming more during the night,” says George. “It’s just too much using the same part of the brain. And the same part of the wrists. My wrists got really, really messed up that year.”



When Insaniquarium was complete, PopCap convinced him to join fulltime. What became Plants vs Zombies started as Insaniquarium 2. “I’m not the type who just wants to do the same game again,” George explains, “so for Insaniquarium 2, I was kind of thinking that it would be, instead of a one-fish-tank game, it would be twice the fish tank.” A double-decker fish tank.







“I don’t know why that makes sense. The aliens would enter the top fish tank in hordes and they would attack your top fish, and if they broke through that they would get to your bottom fish tank. When they ate all your fish in the bottom fish tank the game would be over. The top fish tank was going to be defensive fish and depth charges, and the bottom tank was going to be the resource generator tank.”



It wasn’t Plants vs Zombies, but it’s not far away. Imagine that fish tank turned on its side.



It’s only after returning home, when I’m speaking to George on the phone, that it becomes clear why PopCap are the casual game developers we care about. It’s because they act like the very best of the traditional developers we’re used to. By working at Blizzard and PopCap, George has experienced both.



“I worked at two companies that let people take as long as they wanted to make their games,” he says, with the key difference being that the smaller teams of casual game development allow for greater experimentation. “I don’t think I’d be satisfied making games that everyone has played before. I think my job is to try to come up with some new experience for people to play. That happens in the hardcore industry, but it’s a tougher framework.”







But maybe still not as tough as working at other casual developers. “I think when you do metrics, they’re helpful, but I don’t think you can rely on them,” says George. “A lot of times they’ll use the metrics and they’ll keep the game mechanics that help them do the best business rather than the game mechanics that create the most fun experience.”



At his keynote speech at this year’s Penny Arcade Expo conference – an orgy of gaming love held at the same Benaroya Hall that houses Casual Connect – Deus Ex designer Warren Spector urged the gathering hardcore not to look down on casual game players.



He’s right. It’s not casual game players that we should be condemning, or the idea of approachable gaming experiences we can play at Facebook. It’s the companies making these games. Most of them are not worthy of our attention or care. PopCap are.



George puts it best: “I think that the reason people want to keep playing should be that they’re having a good time doing so. I think that’s the slope you go down as you start designing by metric: you might lose what’s truly fun about videogames.”
Shacknews - Steve Watts

PopCap is planning on bringing two of its most popular casual games, Plants vs. Zombies and Peggle to Facebook "eventually." The ball got rolling when Games.com noticed a slide at an EA investor meeting that posed the two games under "Success on Facebook" next to planned EA games Risk: Factions and The Sims: Social.

The Escapist reports that PopCap's Garth Chouteau later confirmed the reports, but was hazy on the details. "Sure, they're coming to Facebook eventually," he said. "No timetable available yet, however." The word "eventually" doesn't sound like it will be terribly soon, so you might have to rely on old-fashioned methods of bragging to your friends about your zombie-killing abilities.

The slide calls the future outlook "strong" with these titles in tow, and it's hard to argue with the reasoning. Both PopCap titles have been hits on multiple platforms, and now that they've run their course offering free-to-play Facebook versions is a logical next step. EA is wasting no time putting their acquisition of PopCap to work, and hasn't broken anything yet. Fingers crossed.

PC Gamer
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title="Permanent Link to PopCap for sale? EA rumoured to be making a $1 billion offer">Bejeweled 3



There are strong rumours flying around suggesting that EA are in the late stages of negotiating a deal to buy up PopCap for a massive ONE BILLION dollars. Edge picked up a report from TechCrunch, who have been approached by two unnamed sources who say that Electronic Arts are about to spend 13% of its stock market value to buy up the casual games developer.



PopCap are best known as the professional purveyors of casual gaming crack like Peggle, Bejeweled and Plants vs. Zombies. PopCap's official response to the rumours was to say that "Per company policy, we do not comment on rumours and speculation of this nature."



Joining EA would be an interesting move for PopCap, given that its founding members left casual game company Pogo to go independent, and Pogo was bought by EA soon afterwards in 2001. In fact, PopCap CEO John Vechey told us that PopCap tried to sell their breakout game, Bejeweled to EA when they were starting out for $60,000. "They said no, thank goodness!" said Vechey.



In the ten years since then, PopCap have gone from strength to strength, and are now an international company with more than 400 employees. You can find out more about how PopCap was founded, and the stories behind their greatest games, like Bejeweled, Peggle and Plants vs. Zombies in our week of features on PopCap.
PC Gamer
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title="Permanent Link to Plants vs. Zombiesville? China gets exclusive adaptation from Popcap">PVZ Thumbnail



Popcap have revealed a "Social Edition" of the superb Plants vs. Zombies. The adaptation was handled by Popcap's Shanghai studio, and is launching on Chinese networking site Renren.com. There's no news of an English translation yet, sadly.



Read on for screens and the details.



The online adaptation lets you create your own personal town which reflects your choice of tactics. There'll be a Rampage mode that supplies a non-stop zombie attack, complete with leaderboards. It sounds as though Popcap are going for a similar vibe to their Facebook/iOS adaptation of Bejewelled Blitz - quick, competitive bursts of play through a browser.



We're intrigued by the weekly challenges, items, and zombies teased by Popcap, but the prospect of an online Zen Garden-esque town that your friends can come and visit is even more exciting. Upsettingly, Popcap have also confirmed that Plants vs. Zombies Social Edition will be exclusive to Renren.com for the time being. Boo to language barriers.

















Announcement - Valve
To celebrate the 2 year anniversary, save 66% off Plants vs. Zombies in this week's Midweek Madness!

Owners of Plants vs Zombies also get and get 2 PvZ inspired in-game hats for Team Fortress 2.

Zombies are invading your home, and the only defense is your arsenal of plants! You'll need to think fast and plant faster to stop dozens of types of zombies dead in their tracks.

Offer ends this Thursday at 4pm PST.
...

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