The Sounds of PopCap, Part 2: Plants vs. Zombies
PopCap's games are crafted to compel. Gameplay may be what keeps players coming back, but there's no question that sound is part of the secret sauce that makes these casual diversions so entertaining. Crispy Gamer spoke to the creative minds behind three of PopCap's most beloved games to find out how designers used audio feedback to keep players feeling good and having fun.
For Plants vs. Zombies we spoke to Laura Shigihara, who created all the sound and music for the game.
The sound: Butter smacking a zombie on the head.
Laura Shigihara: I started by throwing a stick of butter into a bowl of oatmeal. But I wasn't pleased with the result, and I thought, "This would be so much better if I had a real head to throw the butter at." So I asked George Fan (the game designer) if I could borrow his head. He knelt down by the microphone, and I threw the stick of butter at his head about 20 or 30 times. Let me tell you, that is the best "butter hitting head" sound you'll find anywhere! And apparently, butter doesn't wash off very easily. So if you plan to do this, make sure you have plenty of time to shower afterwards.
The sound: Menu buttons.
Shigihara: I decided that I needed a good selection of button sounds, so I recorded a bunch of random sounds and chopped them up into little pieces that sounded pleasing to me. The menu buttons are a combination of opening a tennis-ball can and shaking dice in a cup.
The sound: Pop of zombies' heads falling off.
Shigihara: When I was younger I started noticing that certain sounds made me hungry. In this one McDonald's commercial, for example, the background music had a variety of subtle popping noises and light bongos which for some reason were extremely effective at making the food seem more appetizing. When I heard a commercial on the radio for ampm's new line of food that used similar popping noises and hand-played percussion, I started thinking there was some sort of connection. It didn't just make the food seem better; it also had this weird relaxing effect. So when I recorded a popping noise that would be pitch-shifted in game, I thought it would serve two purposes: It makes the decapitation less severe and more cute; and it's got this naturally pleasing and relaxing feel to it. My intention wasn't to make players hungry, though. I think you need more hand-played percussion mixed in in order for that to work.
The sound: Collecting sunlight.
Shigihara: The sunlight sound consists of four rising notes played by a marimba. Just like with the pops, the pitch is randomly shifted to allow for more variety.
The sound: Three-note sound when gifts and gems appear.
Shigihara: Sparkly noises just have a way of making you feel like you've accomplished something, you know?
The sound: Selecting plants.
Shigihara: I just recorded myself picking up and placing down a receipt. I used a receipt because the paper is smooth and shiny (like fax paper), and not only feels good to pick up, but it also has a less dry and more rich sound when recorded.
The sound: Projectiles hitting zombies.
Shigihara: This is actually the sound of a tomato hitting a wall, except I [raised] the pitch to make it feel like a smaller impact. I think it was really important that this sound in particular was pitch-shifted randomly throughout the game, because it's heard so frequently.