When Pokémon developer Game Freak revealed Soliti Horse, an upcoming Nintendo 3DS eShop title, many wondered, “Why Solitaire and horse racing?” or “Why would Game Freak make such a game?” Famitsu recently asked the game’s developers themselves in an interview.
Game Freak programmers Masao Taya and Toshihiro Obata, along with composer Go Ichinose, who’ve all been part of developing the company’s popular Pokémon series sat down to talk with Famitsu about their latest surprise. To begin with, Famitsu got straight to the point by asking how Soliti Horse came to be and what the process was behind its development.
“Yes, for starters, let’s talk about Game Freak’s very own unique system,” starts Taya. “At Game Freak, there’s a system called “Gear” where anyone can start up a plan, and then if they can get three staff members together who say ‘that looks like fun,’ we can begin a manufacturing trial. It’s a system that began about three years ago, which was applied towards this opportunity.”
Taya continues, “There are many staff members at Game Freak who think, ‘I want to make a fun and original game’ and we’re always thinking about what we can do for new games. The company itself has as policy of wanting to release new titles, so the system is made for that.”
As for the mix of Solitaire and horse racing? “I personally had a few ideas in stock, but I’ve always liked horse racing, and thought ‘I wonder if I can make a game that mixes horse racing and card games’,” says Taya.
“For me, it was when I played an iPhone app called Solitaire Golf and began thinking about making a lighthearted product that mixes something like Solitaire Golf and horse racing,” Ichinose adds. “I wanted lighthearted content that could also show how fun horse racing is, which would also be part of it. It started after talking to Taya about it.”
“I actually wasn’t interested in horse racing, but after hearing talks about throwing Solitaire into horse racing, I thought that it sounded like fun,” Obata chimes in.
Famitsu asks the Game Freak developers to share how the “Gear” was put into action.
“Actually, the ‘Gear’ requires a period of examination by the company.” says Taya. “Firstly, it’s the manufacturing trial that takes three months, and once that passes, it openly becomes accepted as an official project. Next, there another examination period that takes place six months later, which is a process that determines whether [the game] will officially be processed or not. So, the first three months were to shape up the project, where we had to do our best to make form of what we had in mind.”
“During the first two months, we gathered in the conference room, and thought of many plans. Then about a month later, we made a prototype,” explains Ichinose. “The first idea was about being able to move horses according to the number on the card… it was a Sugoroku* method. But if we went with a Sugoroku style, it would’ve taken too long for the other horses to move, so it wasn’t very good. Since we’re able to use the stylus to draw lines, we figured that we could use a similar gimmick to Sugoroku, and we were able to make it in the style we have now.”
*Japanese Snakes and Ladders or Backgammon-like game
Famitsu asks whether the examination after the first three months was well received.
“Hmm, it’s hard to say. But I can say that the fun part of [Solitaire Golf] was firm and met, which is where its strengths were,” says Taya. “We also put effort into the feel of the interface, so I believed that when they actually felt it for themselves, they’d understand the experience. During the examination, our senior Watanabe (Tetsuya) said, ‘This is fun, but isn’t it simply Solitaire? Solitaire is offered for free, so can we offer this for free?’ but we managed to pass the exam.”
“If the examination that takes place three months in is to measure the project’s degree of ‘seriousness’ then the following three months are to see if it makes business sense, so we were being severely checked on at the time,” adds Ichinose.
“We argued so much,” he continues with a laugh. “I wouldn’t be able to accept it even after work, so I’d call [Taya] in the middle of the night, well past midnight, and say ‘I want to do it like this!’ and stuff like that. Any opinions I had such as ‘I definitely think it should be done like this,’ were always brought up. I wanted nothing more than to make it as solid as possible. Of course, in the end it was up to the director Taya who made the decisions, but even if it meant the risk of being hated, I just had to speak out all of my thoughts on what I thought would make it fun.”
Soliti Horse is currently available on the Japanese Nintendo eShop for 500 yen.