Recently, Nintendo’s Ryuichi Nakata and Akira Kinashi, the director and producer of Tetris 99 respectively, stepped up for an interview about their inspirations for the game, what it was like releasing a game with no marketing, and more. [Thanks, 4Gamer!]
Here are the highlights:
Can you tell us how Tetris 99 came to be?
Ryuichi Nakata, director: “The project plan started in around April 2018. At our company, all the developers will hold a meeting once a week in order to brainstorm new game ideas, and that was where the inspiration came about.
During the meeting, it just so happened somebody said, “Battle royale games are quite popular currently”, and another person said, “I feel it’s about time that I want a new Tetris game”, and then it came to me. The two ideas melded together and I immediately thought, “Wouldn’t Tetris be fun as a battle royale?””
I see, so it was a sort of chemical reaction happening within Nakata-san’s brain, that led to a flash of brilliance.
Nakata: “I was purely thinking, “I want to make and play this!” I had the game screen UI in my head already, with how your screen was in the middle and surrounded by others.”
Did your colleagues respond well to the idea?
Nakata: “Nah, not at the beginning. It was a bit hard to put into words the image of putting Tetris and the Battle Royale genre together. So I put together a test screenshot, and showed it again, and in one go everyone was like, “Let’s immediately get to work on this!””
It’s true that the impact of first seeing the game is quite huge.
Nakata: “Actually, when showing off the test screenshot, the specifics of the game hadn’t been decided yet. It was only after getting the go sign that we began to study the battle royale genre, so the impact of that image must have been huge. Although, originally it wasn’t 99 people, but rather 100.”
I was wondering, why take away one person and have 99 instead?
Nakata: “It had to do with consideration of the layout and the impact of that image. With other players’ Tetriminos being displayed as 4×4 pixels, we were able to cleanly add 7×7 screens on the side, with your screen being in the middle making for 99 players. If we made it 100, there would be one extra person just jutting out like a sore thumb.”
Tetris 99 was released on February 14, 2019, making for less than a year of development considering what you said earlier. That’s quite speedy.
Nakata: “Right. The idea was thought up April 2018, with the screenshot and project starting late April; the test version was done October, and the game launched February 2019.”
Could you tell us about any points of uncertainty during development?
Akira Kinashi, producer: “At our company, we’ve researched developing large-scale multiplayer online, but didn’t have any actual examples of it in practice. In the first place, would 99-player Tetris be fun…? We had those sorts of worries.”
Nakata: “That said, we’d never know how it felt if we didn’t make it, so we asked Arika to develop the prototype, because that’s who you think of when you think Tetris.”
I’m surprised you were able to consistently find 99 players to test the game.
Kinashi: “There was Arika, Mario Club, the group of people who got the idea approved of in the first place… we spread the news across the company. The early builds didn’t have tactics and other rules in place, and was just a 99-player battle, but we could still feel that it was fun.”
You didn’t hold a beta test for the game either.
Kinashi: “We did debate whether to do a beta. But from the players’ perspective, they’d be playing the beta, then servers would shut down for a while, and they’d probably be disappointed, so we decided to just go for it and release immediately.”
“It would be a lie to say we weren’t worried, but because we did extensive checks beforehand, I thought it would be fine.”
Nakata: “For me, I was worried and hoping that somebody else wouldn’t have the same idea before release!” (laughs)
Tetris 99 is available on Nintendo Switch via Nintendo Switch Online.