In the world of social games, three years might as well be a decade. So, it's safe to say that FarmVille is ancient. Yet, the Zynga success story somehow has not withered completely, still clinging onto some 3.2 million daily players. Regardless, with more expansion packs and additional farms than we care to count, Zynga's largest money maker was due for an upgrade.
Welcome to FarmVille 2, the first-ever standalone sequel to the developer's primary bread winner. This is a soup to nuts approach to reviving the tried-and-true formula that saw countless imitators (that Zynga itself arguably borrowed). However, Zynga has no plans to give the original a sweep of the old scythe--in fact, FarmVille 2 design director Wright Bagwell makes that crystal clear before showing off his team's labor of love.
"We all love FarmVille, and we wanted to create a brand new farming game that exists independently of FarmVille. We didn't want this game to replace FarmVille," Bagwell explains. "It's a completely new kind of farming game that we want to offer to people, and we imagine that people might play both games. People have asked, 'Will I be able to transfer my account into this or something?' This game is so different and so new that it just didn't really make sense and we thought really long and hard about that upfront, and realized that what really made most sense was for people to be able to play both games."
But we've seen Zynga attempt to revitalize its hit franchises before to little success. (Remember Mafia Wars 2?) So, what will make FarmVille 2 any different? For one, it's easy to think of FarmVille 2 as "FarmVille 2.0," a wholesale upgrade. Everything from visuals to interactions and methods for farming have been vastly improved for a more lively, pseudo-realistic experience.
As Bagwell's mouse glides over the fields of wheat that respond with a wave and over his farmer that heartily waves back up at him, he says that FarmVille 2 was created using the latest in Flash technology. The result is a far more lively digital farm than fans have ever seen before in full 3D. To fit with this farm full of life, Bagwell knew that FarmVille 2 had to employ a more organic system. Gone are the days of crops and animals magically yielding coins and farmland magically expanding. (Hungry goats take care of that--you'll see.)
"In this game, when you harvest tomatoes, you get tomatoes. When you harvest wheat, you're going to get wheat," Bagwell says, as if acknowledging the absurdity of the old ways. "And now that you've planted some seeds, there's another really different thing about this game, which is that you actually have to water your seeds to get them to start growing. So water becomes a very, very important essential resource to the game."
In FarmVille 2, players should expect things to operate more organically than in any Zynga game before. Water begets crops, crops beget, well, crops, which beget feed for animals and animals produce goods for cooking recipes. It's a type of cyclical design that, frankly, players should expect from FarmVille at this point. (Especially considering classics like Harvest Moon have been at this since 1996.)
Zynga has also taken great pains to make social interactions feel more organic than your run of the mill neighbor visits. When players visit your farm, they'll be able to perform a few helpful tasks as per usual. But when you log into the game, you'll notice their avatars sitting on bales of hay on the road that sits out front of your land. They're waiting for you to to tell them what to do, to make the best use of their time. Also, players won't receive mere coins for visiting you, but will want to visit for crops they might not be growing or have access to. According to Bagwell, this can also happen in real time.
Now, what about those coins? As it turns out, you'll have to sell your yields to earn them through the stand on the road that lines your farm. And soon following the launch of FarmVille 2 will come the Village Grocer, a fellow from the local village that places orders for you to fill for extra rewards based upon what you're already able to grow or raise. Bagwell hints that that this could eventually lead to an actual village for farmers to interact with one another in and trade their wares.
There's no denying that FarmVille 2 looks gorgeous and brimming with life. But is that and this brand new, organic approach to digital farm life enough for this sequel to survive where other Zynga sequels have not? Find out for yourself when FarmVille 2 launches on Facebook and Zynga.com later today.
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