Game Industry Insider: George Fan

In the third installment of our Game Industry Insider interviews, we hear from George Fan of PopCap games, the mastermind behind Plants vs. Zombies.

What is your current job title and main responsibilities?

I'm a Senior Game Designer at PopCap, which means it's my job to come up with new game ideas and make sure they don't suck!

What is your favorite all time game to play?

I always say my favorite game of all time is Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. Great gameplay, great soundtrack, and great 2d graphics during a time when 2d graphics were thought to be going extinct. It's promising to see 2d graphics and gameplay thriving nowadays.

Where do you find new inspiration for freshness in the games you work on?

All sorts of places. As a kid, I would watch Swiss Family Robinson on repeat because I loved the scene where they defended the island from pirates. While making Plants vs. Zombies, I watched the movie again, this time thinking about what made that final scene so exciting. I realized it was 2 things: 1. setting up traps and 2. watching those traps get sprung by the pirates for a big payoff. I tried to work that into Plants vs. Zombies, and that's how the potato mine came about. Potato mines have to be placed ahead of time because it takes awhile for them to arm themselves, but it's extremely satisfying to watch a zombie creep closer and closer to a mine and finally set it off, covering the zombie in an explosion of mashed potatoes.

Name a personal touch or contribution to a specific game that you are really proud of.

Coming up with the Plants vs. Zombies tagline: "Get Ready To Soil Your Plants!" I don't know why, but I'm really happy with that one.

What games have you personally worked on developing?

There have been 4 games that I've worked on so far:

Wrath of the Gopher - A game that no one's heard of. It was my first 'real' game.

Insaniquarium- Winner of a game design award at the Independent Games Festival. It went on to be a big hit.

Diablo 3- I worked at Blizzard Entertainment for a couple of years doing AI programming for this upcoming game.

Plants vs. Zombies- This game is the worst game ever. Who made this thing?

From concept to release, how many people worked with you on your latest game Plants vs. Zombies, prior to its release?

The core team was pretty small: George Fan(me) on game design, Tod Semple on programming, Rich Werner on art, with Laura Shigihara doing sounds and music. However, it took a lot more people than that to get the game released. QA, a couple of extra artists, beta testers, marmot salesmen, you name it!

Was any one person responsible for the concept of Plants vs. Zombies or was it a group effort?

A lot of my games started out with me prototyping a game concept on a computer in my bedroom, and Plants vs. Zombies was no different. At the point which I thought the game was "fun", I brought the game to PopCap and they helped me put a team together to see it to completion.

As a marketing tool do you feel that the music video did its job? I know it caught my eye and sold me on the game.

Most definitely! The music video was born when I mentioned to my girlfriend Laura that I wanted to do something neat for the game's end credits. That gave her the inspiration to write that awesome song, which in turn gave me inspiration to mock up a goofy flash cartoon to go along with it. Tod, Rich, and I then worked for 2 weeks straight putting the whole video sequence together. PopCap's marketing team dug it so much that they thought it'd be a good idea to release it as a marketing tool. I agreed and the rest, as they say, is history.

Where do you see casual PC game development headed in the next 5 years?

To be honest, I haven't been keeping up with the trends of the casual games industry lately, so it's hard for me to predict where it's headed. I'm hopeful that some of the spirit of the indie games community will catch on with the casual games industry and that we'll start to see less games that are direct clones of one another.

Tell us any secret about yourself, games, or the industry.

Psst! If you press up, up, down, down, left, right, left, right, b, a, in Contra, you can get 30 lives!

George Fan
Senior Game Designer
PopCap Games - Home of the World's Best Free Online Games

Plants vs. Zombies, May 5th, 2009 from PopCap Games!

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