Thursday, June 25, 2009

Office Casual

Yes, it's a lazy photoshop, the summer heat is starting to drain me.

I've been playing a lot of Plants vs. Zombies lately. It's a shining example of casual game design and has really hooked me in:

Jump in and out
Like most people my age (23 at the moment), I don't have the same time to commit to gaming as I used to. Getting home from work after staring at a screen all day long doesn't make sitting in front of another screen for hours at a time an attractive option. Playing for a few minutes while I wait for dinner to cook or riding the subway to work is usually the most zen time I have to play games.

Plants vs. Zombies not only supports this (as you can drop out of a game mid-level), but encourages it. There is a feature called a "Zen Garden" where you tend to a set of plants and meet their demands in real time. My routine this week has been to get up, water the plants, and arrive at work to see my Purple Marigold needs to be watered again. It's little things like that that make dropping in and out more satisfying (ignoring the plants carries no punishments either, only rewards!)

Core Mechanic
A staple of good game development is to prototype a core mechanic/concept, and build your game around that feature. You can tell from a mile away that that's exactly the approach the developers took. Every Level, Mini-Game and Puzzle is built on the same idea, strategically choose defenses to counter a threat in a given environment with given resources. I get the feeling the designer wanted to make something rather gritty and "military defense" but had to reshape it to fit Pop Cap's Casual market (you have to play it to see what I mean). I like the game for how it plays, but I love it for it's charm and addictive nature, even if it does turn into a bit of a grind later on.

I'll also say, this game has a TON of content despite the deceptively simple gameplay and price point (~$20 at the time of release)

Epic Boss Fight
Of course, what game wouldn't be complete with a nice climax to cap it all off? Unless you've played the game, you wont know what I'm talking about, but causing a hailstorm of fruit and veggies to rain down on an evil zombie-robot brought back that long lost "oh-snap!" gaming moment I haven't felt for a very long time. Good job Pop Cap, or at least, good job to your amazingly small development team on this project!

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