Plants vs. Zombies has become such a runaway hit for PopCap and EA that its origins are easy to forget. Before it spawned several sequels, spinoffs, and loads of merchandise, it was a humble prototype created by George Fan. Fan, who says he’s been creating games for as long as he can remember, was laid off by PopCap in 2012. Days later, he participated in a Ludom Dare game jam, in which participants have 48 hours to create a game from scratch based on a theme. The theme that time was “evolution,” and it inspired a game that, years later, will be the first release from his new indie studio.

Octogeddon is at its core an action game, but it contains a healthy dose of strategy. You play as a gigantic octopus, who is rampaging against humanity. When you begin, you only have a pair of limbs. From there, you collect cash and DNA to help you grow and mutate to a bizarre and powerful instrument of destruction. You can’t change your direction, so you have to rotate your limbs to destroy your enemies. At the outset, you only have ordinary octopus tentacles. Thanks to genetic modifications, you can swap out limbs that are based on different creatures. Snakes spit venom, which lets you take on enemies at range; bees fire homing stingers; and even your default tentacles can smack your foes into oblivion.

“You’re collecting money, and you have to go to your DNA lab and upgrade your octopus in the optimal way or else you won’t be able to survive,” Fan says. “It’s all about customizing your octopus, but customizing it effectively.”

The game's set for a 2017 release on Steam. Meanwhile, you can download the original game here, and see how it all started.

I spoke with Fan recently about Octogeddon’s early days, his new studio, and what it’s been like to see Plants vs. Zombies grow over time. Spoiler: It’s been weird.

Game Informer: Can you walk me through the game’s origins? What was the kernel of the idea that you started with?

George Fan: It was my first Ludum Dare, so I read up on what other people do to get inspired. I got all hyped up before they announced the theme, and then they announced it, and I ran around my house in circles. I don’t know if I’d recommend that in general, but I ran around in circles. And you know how you get good ideas in the shower sometimes? I took a shower right after, and I was thinking of evolution. What kind of game would I want to make, and what kind of game could I make that ties in with that theme? I wanted something that could have a long upgrade track. That drew me into the idea of this octopus that starts with just two limbs, and then eventually grows up to eight different limbs. Each limb can do something different, and you can start with two and go to eight, and that leaves you a lot of room for feeling like you’re evolving and upgrading the whole time. Then I started sketching what he looked like. He started off like a good-guy octopus, like he was a hero octopus, and then quickly I set up him to be the world-ending octopus and the bad guy. It fit a little better.

What lessons did you learn from that version of the game?

I found it fun to play, and it was really cool because some of the feedback that I was getting from the other Ludum Dare participants was like, “This is super fun already.” I think that was like capturing a little bit of lightning in a bottle. There’s something there, is what I figured. I’d done a few game jams, and not often does something like that, with that much of a spark, arrive in 48 hours. I kept it in the back of my mind as something that I might want to explore in the future and make it into something more fleshed out.

What can you tell me about your new studio, All Yes Good? Was it founded around this particular game?

I’ve been making games as far back as I can remember, and this is just the latest iteration of something that lets me continue to make games. When forming the studio, I had the first project being Octogeddon in mind, and the first person I thought to reach out to was Rich Werner – he was the lead artist from the original Plants vs. Zombies, and we worked extremely well together and have a great rapport. I know our styles totally mesh, and he has his own personality that you can see through the games. I really wanted to work with him, and I got him on board. Then we were like, ‘Okay, what great programmers do we know?’ We worked with Kurt Pfiefer at PopCap, and we asked if he would want to join us, and he did. We thought about what team size worked for us in Plants vs. Zombies. It worked really well with the core team being one designer – me – and then the director of the game, and then one artist and one programmer. That’s what I’ve worked best with historically, and I was looking to kind of assemble the same size team with the same relationship.

The original game was created in 2012. When did you resume work on this in earnest?

It was about two to three years ago that we decided, ‘Let’s do something real with this and make it official.’ It was the case with Plants vs. Zombies, there was a prototype that I made pretty much on my own before I brought it to PopCap. You could already tell that there was something there, it was already fun. Out of all the prototypes that I had made since, I feel like this one had the most potential, so that’s what we chose to work with.

Something I noticed in the game is that you call them legs, not arms, which goes against what little I think I know about octopus physiology. Explain.

It was 48 hours, and I was like, ‘Legs!’ When you’re pressed for time, you really don’t have the time to analyze things. Here’s a little fun fact: Scientists think [octopuses] have six arms and two legs, based on how they function. They use two of their limbs as actual legs, and the other six are free to grab things and do arm-like things. We just split the difference, and in the final version of the game we call them limbs. Does that seem a little better than legs to you?

It sounds like a good way to hedge your bets, just in case a marine biologist calls you on it. On the topic of limbs, I was looking at the screenshots, and it looks like you have two types of snakes, a chicken, a wasp…is that a hedgehog?

It’s a porcupine. That was one of the most fun parts, coming up with what would look funny coming out of an octopus. We just took great joy in that. You’ll see some that are even more outlandish than the ones that are in that screenshot.

One of the things I noticed is that in this version you’re earning money instead of DNA. What happened to the octopus? Has he become more materialistic over time?

I don’t know if I’ve made the right decision, but it was DNA Points in the Ludum Dare, because I thought the more I could tie it into the theme of evolution, the better. But DNA Points is a little bit of a mouthful, and money is great because everyone knows that you collect money to buy stuff. I love that in games, because you don’t need to explain anything. In Plants vs. Zombies we used the sun, but people connect plants and the sun, so I was okay with that. The other reason was because you know how in Plants vs. Zombies you earn different seed packets that give you unlocks to new plants? We’re kind of doing the same thing here, but the unlocks are you actually pick up porcupine DNA or snake DNA, and that gives you the blueprint to upgrade your limbs. We went with a new metaphor of calling rewards DNA and having the resource that you’re collecting is money. For now, that’s what we’re going with.

Is he a super-intelligent octopus? How is he able to upgrade his genetic composition?

He’s pretty one-dimensional right now. He’s not super intelligent; he just gets angry at things. And he’s Godzilla-sized. He does have a lab that he can upgrade himself in and mutate his limbs, but I don’t think anybody knows how he got that lab at this point. He just knows how to work the things within it.

In a game like Destiny, I’m not really concerned with the story or lore at all. But things like this are very interesting to me. Maybe you’ll explore this in the sequel?

Yeah. All will be explained in the sequel. [Laughs]

I’m making an assumption here, but it must be really weird to have created Plants vs. Zombies and then see the phenomenon that it’s become.

Yeah, it is really weird. I feel extremely blessed to have made something like that, because it’s kind of what you want to do as an artist – to make something that’s like you’ve left your mark. It’s really cool to talk to people and see the effect that your game has made on so many people – it’s an incredible blessing. The weird part is that, not that I wanted to, but I’m not free to make any more Plants vs. Zombies sequels at this point. And that’s awesome, because when they asked if I wanted to do the sequel, I was like, ‘I have so many other ideas for games that I just want to explore those.’ It actually works better for me, because I see myself making lots of different original games rather than sticking to one and making sequels. I know some designers keep going back to the same game because that’s their bread and butter and they feel like they need to do the first game and make it even better, but I really enjoy the exploratory process and coming up with something brand new. It’s something I love to do. It’s awesome and it’s weird. I’ll say that.

I’d imagine it’s like being the original singer in a band and then hearing new music from that band on the radio.

It’s exactly like that. I bet that’s how those lead singers feel.