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Wednesday, April 10, 2024

EA canceled a singleplayer Plants vs. Zombies spin-off to back a Star Wars game, which it also canceled

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Seven years ago, a team of roughly 30 developers at EA Vancouver began working on a Plants vs. Zombies spin-off. Popcap’s original tower defense game had already been successfully transformed into an online shooter with Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare in 2014, and apparently EA was open to more new ideas—in this case, a singleplayer action-adventure with Arkham-style combat in which a teenager partners with plants to fight undead while traveling through time. 

As IGN reports, this intriguingly strange project was canceled through no fault of its own so the developers could be moved to the singleplayer Star Wars action-adventure begun by Visceral, which was itself canceled in 2017.

Character/world artist Tom Bramall, who would go on to work on two further Plants vs. Zombies games, Garden Warfare 2 and Battle for Neighborville, shared concept art for some of the canceled game’s levels in 2018. As IGN’s sources say, it was codenamed “Project Hot Tub” in reference to the movie Hot Tub Time Machine, and would have featured levels based on the present day, a pirate island, the wild west, and the far future.

Apparently Project Hot Tub’s structure was based on that of the Uncharted games. That makes it apt the team was moved onto the Star Wars project headed by Amy Hennig, which was also planning to follow a similar “open corridor” format. Project Hot Tub would tell the story of a teenage boy named Eddie who befriends a Peashooter plant, working together after an accident hurls them and the zombies invading Neighborville across time. Eddie’s abilities would be based on the plant he was accompanied by, with Peashooter’s able to provide a short-range blast as well as leaves that serve as a glider, Sunflower lighting up dark places, and Chomper providing a heavy melee attack and grappling hook. During several short sections set in the Middle Ages players would instead control Eddie’s sister Tessa, who had a time-rewinding power thanks to her own plant friend, Thyme.

It sounds like Project Hot Tub had everything going for it, with a 20-minute playable slice, an animated cinematic, and a plan for release in 2017, all part of a presentation that was well-received by executives who saw it in 2016. It was simply a matter of the Star Wars game being a bigger deal and more in need of resources that saw the Project Hot Tub team funneled over to help out. When that too was canceled, the team was split over multiple other projects across EA.

The odds of EA returning to Project Hot Tub seems slim at best. Plants vs. Zombies: Battle for Neighborville, the third Garden Warfare game, stopped being supported a year after its release and mobile game Plants vs. Zombies 3 has bounced in and out of soft-launch in a limited number of territories over the last two years without ever seeing a global release. 

Meanwhile, EA’s interest in singleplayer Star Wars action-adventures resulted in Respawn’s Jedi: Fallen Order, which was enough of a success to see a sequel greenlit. Star Wars Jedi: Survivor is scheduled for a 2023 release.

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