Tobold's Blog
Saturday, May 16, 2009
My thoughts on Plants vs. Zombies

Killed in a Smiling Accident has a brilliant review of Plants vs. Zombies, so I don't need to write one. :) Instead I'll just ramble on with some personal thoughts on the game.

Of course at the start I enjoyed Plants vs. Zombies very much. Who wouldn't enjoy a game in which a pole vaulting zombie jumps over a wall-nut only to splatter satisfyingly in your exploding potato minefield? But the longer I played, the more frantic the game became, until it reached the point where it was simply too hectic for me. Besides, at that point I had already grocked the game, understood the tactical principles behind a good defense, and by ending the learning process (according to Raph) also ended the main fun part of the game.

So when I read Melmoth's paragraph where he discusses into what drawer of game genre to forcefully shove Plants vs. Zombies, my reaction was "No question! Plants vs. Zombies is a real-time strategy (RTS) game!". Which is probably not how most people would describe it. But Plants vs. Zombies ends up leaving me with exactly the same feeling as other RTS games I recently tried, like Dawn of War 2: The tactical decisions you make a really, really simple, and wouldn't pose any challenge if you weren't forced to take these decisions in a hurry while trying to watch several parts of your screen simultaneously and having to click fast when stuff happens.

Now I'm an old codgergamer who grew up with turn-based strategy games, and for me that sort of gameplay is unsatisfying. I'm okay with losing because I made a wrong tactical decision, but I hate losing because I didn't click fast enough, or got overrun at some point of the map I wasn't watching at the moment. And I don't like having only very limited tactical choices, made artificially challenging by speeding them up. But that's just me.
The RTS genre shines when it is another human being you're making these decisions against. While coming up against the same AI over and over leads to simple rote decisions, trying to anticipate the strategy & tactics of another human being adds a whole new dimension. This is true to pretty much all games though.
I am considering buying Plants vs. Zombies, as I am enjoying Defense Grid (bought off Steam for $5, thanks to a heads up from LewieP via Rock-Paper-Shotgun); now and then I do like honing my build-order click-fest skills for the satisfaction of seeing it all play out how I want it to go. I really like the F key in Defense Grid; speeds everything up.

Side note: why on Earth (not Mars, they presumably haven't adulterated the word) do people now spell grok with a "c"? Sure, it fits our spelling conventions, but Heinlen's "to drink" word was only the four letters (maybe to make it seem more alien?). There are many letters I'd be happy to see dropt from English, at the very least to save paper. Also, it would make poetry more readable; you'd know how many syllables to use (like wikt or wicked, but you all can think of better examples I'm sure).
I'm glad it's not just me. I found the game far too hectic for my tastes. It's gorgeously presented, but I think I like strategy games where you have more time to think.

I think I found the tower defence games in free realms more fun, for that reason.
my reaction was "No question! Plants vs. Zombies is a real-time strategy (RTS) game!"Hoom, it does have the 'spam strategy' of an RTS game, but I would say that that only partially describes it. In my opinion it's as much RTS as it is Space Invaders - there's definitely elements of both. I think that's the genius of PopCap, they blend genres and game styles effortlessly.

I think that we can agree though that if a person doesn't like frantic mouse clicking in their strategy games, then PvZ probably isn't for them.

I wonder if PopCap considered a pause button (as many tower defence games have), and if they did try it, why they decided that it didn't work. Perhaps the style of game that they were aiming for was deliberately based around the idea of energetic reaction rather than carefully considered 'pre-action', an interesting and unconventional approach to a tower defence game, to be sure.

Glad you liked the review, thanks for the hap tip.
Tower Defense would normally be considered a subset of RTS, I presume, especially since Warcraft 3 is what got the ball rolling.

You can pause, although part of the screen is occluded by the "resume" box. Hit the menu button, or in windowed mode, click any other window.

The game can be hectic, but never enough to make as difficult as Super Mario Brothers, with a huge margin for error. If your reaction time is good enough to drive safely, you should be able to beat the game without much trouble.
It's not "grock", it's "grok".
Plants vs Zombies looks like a fun game. I'm considering buying it. I'll try the demo first. I do enjoy those tower building games like defense grid.

And anytime someone uses the word "Grok" it reminds me of Heinleins Strager in a strange land.
I do think Heinlein is who invented the term. I've seen both spellings (see link), but if you guy prefer "grok" to "grock", I can adjust to that.
Heinlein coined the word grok, it didn't exist at all before Stranger in a Strange Land. It's also spelled "grok" with no C. He made the word up, he got to decide how it was spelled. Works for me.

In thought PvZ felt very very much like an RTS. It starts out with building as many production units as you can while still squeezing in the first combat units just as the computer opponent shows up. Then it's an economic game of gathering enough resources to build enough units.

It's worth persevering until you unlock the minigames and puzzles. They're quite fun.
From the original KIASA review:

"As such, many tower defence games include a fast forward option so that players don’t have to endure the less than fascinating game-play element known as ’sitting on your hands and waiting to be able to play again’"

Unfortunately, that's the bit of gaming I like the best. In general, most games need to be made slower for my tastes, not faster, like life in general.
I have been looking for a tower defence game where you cannot modify anything once the fighting starts but I haven't found one yet. This would make it more of a puzzle strategy game than a click fest.
This comment has been removed by the author.
mbp, I hope this makes it past the spam filter despite the links. There are several. First, there is a series that never lets you sell and replace them:
Protector II
Protector III
You will also find that most have modes like that. Desktop Tower Defense and Plants vs. Zombies both do. In PvZ, it's a mini-game called "The Last Stand."
By "like that," I mean a set mode, where you can not buy, sell, or upgrade once it starts.
I bought Plants and Zombies and found it enjoyable, but don't think it has the lasting power or the simplicity of a Bejeweled or Peggle. The setup time takes too long, and once you finished the adventure mode and mini games the game doesn't have much depth. Some of the mini games are nice, for sure, but still it's more glitz on a well-made core package. That said, I don't regret shelling out US$9.99 for it on Steam.
In the Protector games, you *can* upgrade units midcombat, though. It's not quite purely static.
"...but I hate losing because I didn't click fast enough, or got overrun at some point of the map I wasn't watching at the moment."

Which is why I don't play, so-called, RTS games, including Starcraft and Warcraft.
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