Plants vs Zombies (partially lost prototypes of popular tower defense game, 2002-2009)

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PrePVZ Level3.png

A screenshot of one of the prototypes.

Status: Partially Lost

Plants VS Zombies is a popular multiplatform tower defence game released in 2009. It was a very successful game, both critically and financially, receiving over a million sales little than a year after its release and even receiving a Golden Joystick award the same year.

However, just like every other video game, a handful of prototypes and demos were made for this game by creator George Fan. While some of them were available to the public around the time of their creation, almost all of them have become lost and unavailable, with the exception of 2 which have been leaked recently.

The only remanence of the builds that weren't leaked or made public consists of various screenshots and gameplay footage of them provided by George Fan himself on his Twitter and a presentation that was held by Jame Gwertzman at China GDC back in 2010.

Here are some of the most notable ones.

2004 "Insaniquarium 2" Build

Concept art for the aliens, later becoming the zombies.

Status: Existence Unconfirmed

Around the time the Nintendo DS released, George Fan had ideas for an Insaniquarium sequel, where it would have two stacked fish tanks rather than the original one fish tank. The top fish tank would be the defense (the idea later becoming the Pea-shooter) and the bottom tank would be the resource generator, similar to the one in the original Insaniquarium.

According to George Fan in an interview with PC Gamer, the initial concept and idea was that aliens would come in hordes and attack the top fish tank, and if they broke through it, would then attack the bottom fish tank, and if they also broke through it, the game would be over.

Not much is known about its development, and it is unknown if any builds were made or tested on, however concept art of the aliens has resurfaced, along with a rumored logo.

2005 "Weedlinks" Build

One of the earliest known screenshots of the build, speculated to date back to 2005. Featuring early designs of Cabbage-Pult, rendering Cabbage-Pult as one of the first official plants ever made for the project.

Status: Lost

The earliest documented beta build of PVZ, which is believed to be the "Weedlinks" alpha build was created back in 2005 judging by it being one of the first beta screenshots shown in Gwertzman's presentation. Only one screenshot of it is shown, however, showcasing some early-looking Cabbage-pult plants firing at the alien enemies from Insaniquarium, which makes sense since both that game and PVZ were built off the same engine. Alongside them also appears to be an unused smiley turnip plant, plus an early HUD menu with a watering can, a number that says '150', probably for the currency system, and other unused turnip plants colored in red, green, and yellow.

It's assumed the Turnip plants would've given you some sort of currency or collectable to buy the plants needed to either attack or make more currency, and the watering can was likely used to grow the plants to make them function or more powerful.

Other than the image provided and the assumptions on how the gameplay would've worked, not much else is known about this build due to its limited documentation.

2006 "Insaniquarium Deluxe" Build

An early 'Choose Your Seeds' menu screen from the build.

Status: Partially Found

The second documented beta build of PVZ, on top of being the most documented one out of all of them. Much more of this one was shown off in Gwertzman's presentation, where it appears to be a combination of the previous 'Weedlinks' build and the Final build. This also marks the first time we get to see the iconic characters in action as well, like Sunflower or Peashooter or the classic bug-eyed Brown Coat Zombie.

Going off of what Gwertzman said in the presentation, the gameplay seemed like a combination of the final's normal levels and conveyer belt levels. You'd still need the sun to use the plants and can select which ones you want to use in battle, but the selected plants will all appear randomly on a conveyer belt. This gameplay system would later be scrapped and reworked, however, due to the dev team finding it too frustrating and convoluted to play.

Various screenshots of the build were shown off on the presentation slides, on top of actual gameplay even being shown off at the event as well. A lot of different and unfinished assets and textures can be seen in it, with stock images of people in zombie makeup and random leaves being used as placeholder backgrounds for the Level Select screen and 'Choose Your Seeds' screen respectively, brown patches of dirt being used as areas to plant the plants instead of colored tiles as seen in the final game, a lot of crude-looking placeholder sprite work, and even an early version of the lawn mower system, with full-blown lasers blasting out at zombies whenever they reach the end of a protected lane instead of lawn mowers driving off and running over them like in the final game.

Early Lawn Mower system. With black and yellow warning lines and giant lasers as a stand-in for lawnmowers in this build.

On top of the images shown off at the presentation, George Fan himself also posted more pictures of the build on his Twitter account, comparing the beta designs of the characters shown in this build to their final renditions. Some of their differences are fairly small, like the Sunflower just getting some updated and more polished sprites or the Helmet Zombie's helmet being replaced by a cone and bucket and being renamed to "Conehead" and "Bucket Helmet" Zombie respectively, but some others are far more drastic, like the Hypno-shroom originally looking more like a fly agaric mushroom, the Cactus plant originally being some sort of bee-stinger plant, and the football zombie originally being a simple red-eyed zombie with a black helmet.

This also extends outside of looks and cosmetics as well. Originally, the Cabbage-Pult was gonna be the main plant used to counter Screen-Door Shield Zombies, but this was later given to the Fume Shroom instead. While Cabbage-Pult can still do that in the final, it no longer serves as its main purpose, instead being shifted to countering the titled terrain of the roof layout in the roof levels.


While this build has never been seen in its entirety, some of its assets have been found and reused for other beta builds that have been fully uncovered and leaked to the public, which will be touched upon later in this article.

"Lawn of the Dead" Builds

2007 Version

A screenshot of the 2007 Halloween Build

Status: Lost

Another documented beta build of PVZ. This one looking more closer to the final than the previous versions. Albeit with slight altercations here and there. Like the HUD design being different, the lawnmowers having slightly different designs, Plants having different sun costs, etc. Not much to say on this one due to its small documentation.

2008 April Fools Day Version

A picture of the infamous joke level named "Ice Level" shown off in this April Fools Build

Status: Lost

This build was infamous for including the notorious "Ice Level", a level that was heavily marketed to beta testers as an awesome level that included snow-themed zombies. Only for the actual level itself to turn out as nothing more than a joke level, an April Fools Day prank by the devs, with the level featuring nothing but immobile frozen zombies and a stock image of a glacier in the background.

This level "technically" still exists in the final game as an unused minigame found in the unused "Limbo Page" where it is still labelled as "Ice Level", but not in its original form, with the frozen zombies now gone and the stock glacier backdrop being replaced by the generic Grasswalk background.

Aside from all that, this build seems fairly similar to the previous 2007 build, albeit looking much closer to the final game than the last one. With a more refined HUD, redesigned lawn mowers, a more refined "Menu" button and all. Though the Level Progress bar still seems to be using the one seen in the previous build. Plus the plant costs still seem to be the same as the previous build as well, with Wall-Nut costing 75 sun instead of 50, Snow Pea and Chomper costing 200 instead of 175, etc. Just like the previously-mentioned 2007 build above, not much else is known about this build either due to its poor documentation.

Found/Leaked Builds

Founded by: chemist with 2 shoes (on The Cutting Room Floor/TCRF Discord Server)

Dates Found: October 7th, 2021

On October 7th, 2021, a fellow user of The Cutting Room Floor Discord Server named "chemist with 2 shoes" managed to get in contact with one of the beta testers for PVZ, where he obtained 2 never seen before prototypes of PVZ and leaked them to the internet for all to see. However, though, these builds cannot be accessed under normal means due to them trying to connect to a now-closed PopCap beta testing server, meaning cheat codes and hacking are now necessary to access them.

December 2nd, 2008 "Bloom and Doom" build

The main menu for the build. Note the words on the bottom that read "BETA BUILD: DO NOT DISTRIBUTE"

Status: Found

This is one of the builds that have been leaked to the internet. Created a few months before the final release of the game, this game is the second closest to the final. With more refined HUD designs and art assets all around.

There do exist quite a number of differences, however. Such as different thumbnails for some of the minigames, an entirely different credits sequence at the end of the game, and a lot of unused plants and zombies. Including a dog walker zombie that was likely removed due to being too challenging to take out (Zombie has 10 hp whilst the dog not only has 14 hp, but can also run extremely fast once the zombie dies and can only be defeated with short plants like puff-shroom or potato mine), and early propeller and balloon zombie, a hovering cherry bomb that can be placed on top of plants, an apple-shaped clock that can freeze time and quickly recharge all seed slots, an ice lettuce that acts like a frozen Cabbage-pult which was likely replaced by Winter-Melon in the final, the Bee plant from the Insaniquarium DX build which makes a return here and is now labelled as "Stinger" and shoots out red spikes instead of bees, amongst many others.

And as mentioned before, quite a lot of sprites and art assets seem to be reused from the 2006 "Insaniquarium DX" build. Such as the Bee Stinger Plant, the Cherry Bomb sprite, and the Propeller Zombie sprite. All of which seem to have been fully ripped from that build.

Most interestingly are some of the music choices. The Pool not even having any music made for it at this point, only reusing the Grasswalk and Moongrains tracks, the Loonboon and Cerebrawl tracks sounding completely different from their final versions, and Grasswalk and Moongrains both having never-heard-before beta versions of their horde themes.

More info and analysis about this build, along with a download link to the build itself, can be seen here

February 17th, 2009 Build

The title for the build.

Status: Found

Another build was also leaked alongside the previous one.

This build doesn't have too many differences from the final version, on top of looking the most finished, which makes sense since it was made 3 months before the official release.

There are still a few subtle differences from the final version though, such as an earlier and shorter version of the credits scene that has a red replay button instead of a green one, along with some of the names being replaced with "????" for some reason, as well as a slightly different title screen for the game, and the text that displays when you hover your cursor over the trophy saying "You're Awesome" instead of "You've beaten Adventure mode X time(s)".

A download link can be found here


While 2 of the builds have been leaked online, the rest have yet to be recovered in their entirety. And with George Fan's Layoff and departure from PopCap, as well as losing the rights to the PVZ brand from PopCap and EA, along with how old the builds are, making it unlikely that PopCap or EA may even have the builds after all these years, the chances of the other builds ever seeing the light of day is very unlikely.

Despite that though, various screenshots of the unseen builds have resurfaced online, and a short clip of James Gwertsman's presentation where he shows off 2 of the builds has been uploaded onto YouTube. Even Gwertsman himself uploaded the entirety of his slide presentation onto a website called "slideshare" which contains many high-quality screenshots of the beta builds.

On top of that, some of the ideas present in these lost builds would later be featured in the sequel "Plants VS Zombies 2, It's About Time", specifically the "Ice Level", with the sequel featuring actual functional Ice Levels with frozen zombies that can only be dealt with fiery plants.



A video clip of James Gwertzman's presentation, where he shows off 2 prototypes of the game.

A video of Stefan25897 playing through one of the leaked 2008 Bloom and Doom builds.

A beta version of Moongrains heard in the leaked Bloom and Doom build, also including its never-heard-before horde variant.

The never-heard-before beta version of Grasswalk horde, also heard in the leaked Bloom and Doom build.


External Links

Special Thanks to The Cutting Room Floor and The Plants Vs Zombies Wiki, along with George Fan and James Gwertzman themselves, for providing and dumping the sprites and images shown throughout this article