During my stay here at the PvZ Wiki, I've seen a lot of stuff. Dark Ages and Big Wave Beach have come and gone, Frostbite Caves - Part 2 is almost complete, and I've started my own blog about the game. Meanwhile, the sister wiki, PvZ Character Creator, has also been busy. Since I've been here, I've created a few plants and zombies, both for my own fan levels, and for the non-existent game "Strike of Wicked Dave".
However, during my creation experience, I've noticed that PvZCC suffers from a LOT of bloat. Tons of ideas get poured in, and many of them... aren't so good. Now, that's not to say that there aren't some real gems in there, but there's a lot more rough than diamonds.
Today, I want to talk about what separates the two. And before anyone asks, no, this isn't me trying to say that rookies or bad ideas don't have any place on PvZCC. The purpose of this blog post is to help rookies get their foothold and balancing techniques down so that their work can help shine. While I will be using, as examples, bad pages from the wiki, my point is to judge things how I see them, not to demean others based on their work. With that in mind...
Tecku Talks About: Fan Content Creation 101
First, let's talk about where to begin. Depending on your style, you're probably going to have one of two starting positions:
1) Mechanic Start
Mechanic Start is where you have the mechanic and balance solved before you come up with a name, or determine what kind of plant it will be based on. Mechanic Start is best for players who are designed to set a counter to a zombie, are attempting to fix a broken plant, or are attempting to incorporate the mechanic into a level or strategy.
2) Name Start
Name Start is where the player has come up with a pun or image first, and attempts to create a mechanic around it. While many scoff this idea as "backwards", it does carry some benefits. Name Start can lead people to think outside the box. For example, suppose I came up with an avacado pun- Lavacado. Now I begin to think "what would a plant based on a volcano or lava do?". This is a great system for people who are dead for ideas.
Development and Quality Control
So, you know where to start. Now what? Now we enter the cycle of refinement. This cycle is made up of four parts:
1) Write up the latest version
2) Check the Quality Questions
3) Imagination Test
This cycle is our version of quality control. The first stage, write-up, has us put our ideas down on paper, helping us to organize our thoughts. By actually writing our concept down, we sometimes notice things that we missed in our head. It also provides reference for stages two and three. (NOTE: don't do this on PvZCC until you've gone though this cycle a couple of times. Go through the first few cycles on paper, or in Microsoft Word.)
Stage two has us compare whether or not our idea is balanced on a technical level. The quality questions (listed below) have us check on whether the mechanics balanced against other in-game options. These questions help assure whether the fan content is feasible. Make sure to check with them!
Stage three, imagination test, has us pretend our item is in game. In other words, we want to try to get as close to a beta test as we can, even if it's just in our heads. This is important because while stage two provides general feedback, it doesn't cover every in and out of the testing stage. Pretending to use a fan-plant in the Pirate Seas or a faring a fan zombie against a Garlic/Starfruit defense helps give us new views on our concepts. "Test" them in as many different situations as you can!
Stage four has us evaluate on what we learned, and whether to finalize, adjust, or scrap the idea. Do not be afraid to scrap an idea and start over. PopCap went through plenty of plants and zombies that never made it to the final cut. On the other hand, if an idea can be saved, don't be afraid to come back to it. Some ideas take several different approaches before they work.
The Quality Questions
Is it original enough?
This is the first and foremost question anyone creating content should ask. And yet, it's probably the most ignored. Now, your plant/zombie doesn't have to be totally original. It's okay to borrow base your ideas off of other plants, with their own unique effect (like Guacodile). But make sure that they bring something new to the table.
The most common offendors in this category usually involve taking two plants and slapping their effects together. Now, there's a lot of room for creativity in this game. I've seen ideas like Chainsaw Pea that show the community's creative side. And then I see stuff like this and I just weep. And yes, some plants like Pea-nut and Flaming Pea got into the game without being overly original. But even then, there was new mechanics to it. Pea-nut got weaker as it was eaten, and Flaming Pea would melt plants while thawing out plants on the same lane.
Is it too complicated?
When making a plant/zombie, it's important to keep the concept as simple as possible. If your idea is so complicated that it can't be explained within two or three sentences, it's probably not going to work in-game. This is important becuase many people don't realize the whole purpose behind the seed-slot and zombie-preview system. Each plant and zombie is meant to be but one piece of the puzzle. Each has its own job, and has to contribute to determine which plants the player will pick and use. Each plant and zombie has its own strength and weakness, and these traits have to be easy to understand if the player is going to set up a good strategy.
One example offender to this category is Multi-Shooter. Seriously, I don't get why this idea made #1 of the Top Ten Peashooter list. Half the peas listed don't even exist, and there's no way of knowing how you can incorporate it, since it's completely random.
Does it form a Laserang Conundrum? (Plants)
A fairly self-explainatory issue, but one that gets missed a lot. Make sure that your plant does its job well, but that it doesn't do another plant's job better. While many people will notice this before they post, some people forget to check their plant against other options. Notable offenders include Mirrored Pea and Allergenic Wall-nut .
What plants do and don't work against it? (Zombies)
With zombies, it's important to make sure your creation is vulnerable to a handful of plants, and a variety of strategies, without making it vulnerable to everything. For example, here are two purposefully bad zombies I made up just for this example:
Unity Zombies are comprised of three zombies that are connected to each other. If one takes damage, the other two will heal it. You must defeat all three from full health within a few seconds to kill them.
Boot Zombie wears boots that make it immune to Spikeweed and Spikerock.
The Unity Zombies can be destroyed by Banana Launcher, Guacodile, and Cherry Bomb. However, it's too frustrating to fight, and its weaknesses are set in stone. There isn't a mix-and-match element to keep the strategy fresh.
On the other hand, Boot Zombie is only strong against two plants, which may or may not be present. Now, if Boot Zombie did something else with its boots, like kick zombies over plants, the spike-immunity mechanic would be fine as an addition. But countering a single plant is not enough to be a useful zombie. The best zombies serve as pieces of the puzzle, with their own strengths and weaknesses.
Are there unique conditions for this mechanic?
Don't forget that when you include your plant or zombie, it may be subject to a variety of conditions. Players may try every plant against every zombie. For instance, suppose I came up with this plant:
If zombies near the Hypno Root have 3 health or less, they automatically become hypnotized. Has unlimited uses.
This may seem balanced, as most zombies would only do a few points of damage before dying, and other plants would have to just about kill it off first. However, it could be very overpowered with Chicken Wrangler Zombie in play, as now hordes of zombies are hypnotized from the get-go. In other words, think about what effect each plant has on each zombie.
You've done it! You idea is finished! Time to post it! But when you do...
- Make sure all necessary information is included in the post. If listing a plant, include the Sun Cost and recharge time. If listing a zombie, make sure to post the health and speed.
- Make sure you have your idea organized. Don't cramp everything into one single giant "wall of text" paragraph and then wonder why people don't bother to read it.
- Add detail wherever possible. The post doesn't have to go on forever, but make sure the mechanic is clear and interesting. Add in example strategies for using or defending from the idea.
- I don't ask that your grammar be perfect. I don't mind at all if there's a typo or two every paragraph, or if you misuse "there, their, they're" a couple of times. Now, if your page lacks basic capitalization and is chock full of run-on sentences, it's a problem. If I have to stop and think about what the sentence is supposed to mean because of the poor grammar, it takes me out of the "flow" for your idea.
All in all, creating fan content is hard. But don't give up. Even if the rest of the world probably won't notice it, take pride in your work. After all, it's something you took time out of your day to do. If for nobody else, make it worth it to yourself!