November 16, 2011

Plants vs. Zombies

Yesterday, when I picked my five-year-old twins up from after-school daycare, my son was sitting off by himself, headphones on, in front of the computer in the small side room, away from the chaos and noise of kids dancing and drawing and agreeing and disagreeing in the main room. He had found a new computer game. When he saw me, he jumped up from his chair, practically hopping up and down, and said, “This is the greatest game ever! Can we get it on our computer at home?”

It’s called Plants vs. Zombies. It really is a great game ~ I stayed up way too late last night playing it after the kids went to bed. The zombies are coming across your lawn to enter the house and eat your brains, and it’s your job to plant various plants in your back yard that defend against them. There’s a little bit of sun that rains down that you have to collect to grow your flowers, and then you plant sunflowers to gather more sun. There are peashooters and repeaters and snow peas that spit projectiles at the oncoming zombies. There are cherry bombs that turn all zombies in the vicinity to ashes. There are wall-nuts that stop the zombies’ progress. There’s a potato mine that explodes if they walk over it, but it takes some time to grow. And then with each level you advance, you get new types of plants, but you’re limited as to how many types you can choose. It turns to nighttime and you have to use various types of mushrooms. Then you’re in your backyard with a pond and you need to plant lily pads in order to plant the plants. The final line of defense is a series of lawnmowers that, if the zombies reach them, they are mowed over. But, the drawback is, once it’s gone it’s gone, and it takes out your plants too. If a zombie makes it past, it walks into your back door and “The Zombies Ate Your Brains!” Game over.

It is seriously addicting. I may have to buy the full version.

But as I was thinking about it this morning, I thought: that’s exactly what you need in a plot. You need it to be seriously addicting. How does the PvZ do it? Well, you have a protagonist (you), antagonists (zombies), and a battle with interesting and clearly defined characters on your side. The zombies too have interesting characters. There’s an athlete zombie who can bypass things and there are disco zombies who swarm. It’s progressive ~ you win (or lose) one level and get new plants and new challenges in the next level. Just like chapters. Each level is enough alike that you easily pick it up and understand it but also enough different that it’s a challenge. Chapters should progress that way ~ not aliens dropping in deus ex machina (unless you already have aliens) but also a new twist each time.

I’m telling: it’s got me thinking about my plotting.

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