While Alexey Pajitnov created a new puzzler, Hexic HD, for the Xbox 360's launch, the next-generation system has been without a version of Pajitnov's first creation, Tetris. That is, until now.
Tetris Evolution will burst onto the Xbox 360 scene next week in an explosion of brightly colored tetrads. We sat down with THQ and the developers at Mass Media to dig a little deeper into the latest edition of the puzzle phenomenon.
Gaming Target: First, I wanted to say thanks for taking the time to answer our questions. Would you please get us started by introducing yourself to our readers?
Hello, I'm Rob Shepherd, the project manager for Tetris Evolution. It's great to be here and to have the opportunity to introduce our new twist on an already fun and addictive puzzle game. I've been producing games for almost ten years now, and I'm very happy to have been able to be a part of THQ for the last year and a half. It's a great place to be, and right now is a very exciting time because we have such an outstanding lineup of games.
I would also like to introduce Paul Hoffmeier, who is the producer of the game, and Paul Mithra, game designer, both from the development team at Mass Media. They are true Tetris fans and have put a great deal into the development of this game. Also contributing is Kevin Hooper, who is the brand manager on the title.
GT: Can you tell us about the team that will be developing Tetris Evolution?
Mass Media, based in Moorpark, California, is the newest addition to the THQ Studio System. Previously they created the CDi Tetris game and many of the team members have a passion for Tetris and the puzzle genre. They have worked on a wide range of products in the past and are currently focused on next-gen development. We're very excited to have them as part of the THQ Studio System, working exclusively on THQ titles now. They developed the concept for Tetris Evolution and the new gameplay modes, and have overseen the product all the way through to completion. We wanted to provide your readers with the opportunity to hear directly from them as well, so you'll see some comments and discussions directly from the development team.
GT: Do you have any experience with Tetris or puzzle games in the past?
I had played various versions of the game many times over the years, but this was my first opportunity to help develop a title based on the Tetris license. However, I am very familiar with the puzzle genre since many of the children and family titles that I previously worked on were different puzzle games.
I must say, though, that there is something unique about making a Tetris game unlike any other puzzle game?one minute you're testing the game and if you don't stay focused, the next minute you're playing the game. Before you know it an hour has passed and you've completely forgotten what you originally intended to test the game for! Clearly I wouldn't make a good tester! Even after working on the game for months, Tetris Evolution continues to be fun and addictive.
As Rob mentioned, Mass Media developed Tetris for the Compact Disc Interactive, known as CDi, the first CD-based entertainment system platform back toward the dawn of time. We've also accumulated a few hundred mini-games in our portfolio over the years, many of which were puzzle-based, so our puzzle roots run very deep.
GT: An Xbox Live Arcade version of Tetris has been rumored for awhile, what features will make Tetris Evolution benefit from a retail release as opposed to being an XBLA download?
Tetris Evolution fully supports single player, non-Live, game play and can appeal to all of the Xbox 360 owners without active Live accounts. It also gave us the ability to crank up the sheer amount of assets included with the game?especially the video sequences?that would have taken us over the maximum allowable XBLA size constraints. And they're cool.
I can't really speak for the Xbox Live Arcade version. We've known for some time it was being developed, but we don't really have any visibility as to its feature set. I can say many of our features were tailored to the Xbox 360 environment. We wanted to take full advantage of HDTV and the capabilities of the 360. We also wanted to give players motivation to play competitively and express a little bit of themselves in the process.
We felt the best way to do this was to allow players to create their own identity within the game that was an expression of their own personality. We wanted to make sure players had lots of options, so we included 300 player icons and 25 different skins of various styles that were created to come standard in the game. The combination of player icon and skin becomes each player's own unique identity that is associated with their Gamertag both offline and in Xbox live play. So not only will you get to know a player's Gamertag, you'll also recognize their chosen identity and probably get a better sense of the personality of the individual you are playing against.
As the ?Pauls? (as we have come to affectionately know them) from Mass Media said, we were able to significantly amp up the number of assets, so you'll find a number of great high definition videos and backgrounds to customize your gaming environment while you're playing.
You'll also find that playing in a multiplayer mode on a widescreen HDTV is a much more pleasurable experience, so we think the format is ideal for a nice competitive multiplayer match on Xbox Live!
GT: Can you tell us about Eraser and Get Low, the new modes?
Developing new modes was an interesting prospect, given the incredible lineage of the game and all the variations that have come before us. We ended up favoring simplicity over complexity with a goal-oriented variation (Eraser) and a high-score-based variation (Go Low). Eraser has 4, 6, or 8 target lines and the goal is to clear those specific lines as quickly as possible. Go Low is harder to explain than it is to play?the goal is to keep the highest remaining block, after a line clears, as low as possible in the matrix to maximize your score. The best move is to completely clear the matrix and you play until you either block out or finish all of the levels.
GT: Was a ten-player online mode, a la Tetris DS, ever considered for Tetris Evolution?
Though we considered more online players, we found that the benefit of clearly seeing the opponents' games outweighed the ability to support more than a 4-player competition. Also, for ranked matches, we liked the simplicity of how 2-player games gives you a clean win, lose, or tie to make your way up the leaderboard.
GT: You've said Tetris Evolution will have downloadable content available to customize each person's experience. What kind of downloadable content is planned? Is there a price range that you have in mind?
We have additional player skins as well as background sets. The background sets consist of a high-definition video loop, 15 high-def photos/illustrations, and a theme song. The player can choose which background style they like?video, slideshow, or stills.
Several player skins and background sets are currently in production to go live close to the launch of the game. At the present time, the game is only set up to receive new skins and background sets, but one never knows what the future might hold.
We are still determining the final pricing structure for the downloadable content.
GT: What kind of Achievements will be included in the game?
We've got 40 achievements lined up. The bulk of them are for getting high scores in all the different modes, plus a few special moves or sequences. For instance, ?Dirty South Style Back to Back? is scoring 3 Tetrises in 3 drops?not just in a row, but in 3 drops. It takes a lot of talent and a little bit of luck.
GT: Will Tetris Evolution include the almost too forgiving "Infinite Spin"?
There are currently a set of features that are considered to be necessary to maintain consistency across the Tetris brand. The ?Infinite Spin? is one of those features. We have strived to give the player as many options as could be allowed. In this case, for single-player games you can choose from the three styles of lockdown?infinite, extended, or classic. Note, however, that multiplayer games always use extended lockdown.
GT: Has a suggested retail price been finalized for Tetris Evolution?
The suggested retail price has been set at $29.99.
GT: Tetris Evolution is currently marked as an "Only on Xbox 360" exclusive. Do you have plans to bring it to any other systems?
THQ is proud to be publishing Tetris Evolution on the Xbox 360. We do not have any plans to bring Tetris Evolution to the other systems because we only have the rights for the Xbox 360 version as a packaged SKU.
GT: Do you have any final thoughts about your game for our readers?
We sincerely hope you'll get hours of enjoyment out of Tetris Evolution. If your readers have any requests or any features they would really like to see in the future, we'd love to hear their feedback. We can't wait to see replays and video of lots of great matches!
There is nothing like Tetris. It is one of the most popular games of all time. We are big fans and have included all kinds of variations in Tetris Evolution to make it the kind of game you can go to for a fix anytime?for a minute or for hours at a time. We hope you enjoy it.
We at Gaming Target would like to thank Rob, the Pauls and Kevin for their time. Once again, Tetris Evolution is scheduled to be released on March 19th.