Interview with EA Mobile’s Project Manager on Tetris for the PS3

Ah Tetris. There is something undeniably safe and warm about the perennial puzzle title. It’s been on pretty much every console in existence, and anyone who considers themselves to be a gamer knows exactly how enjoyable Tetris can be. It’s as universally beloved as Mario and Master Chief. Hard to top that.

Anyway, launched last week, Tetris for the PS3 is a solid and perfectly capable version of the game, coming in with full 1080p HD and 5.1 surround sound, this is probably the most visually solid version of the game released to date. Sitting down over the phone, we chatted with EA Mobile’s Product Manager Chris Dreyer about some of the development challenges that went into bringing this game to PlayStation gamers everywhere.

GameZone: Let’s talk about yourself and Tetris. What’s it like?

Chris Dreyer: Well, to start off, I’m the senior product manager over at EA Mobile. We made the game, and so I work on a lot of different Tetris games, so I work on the ones for iPhone, iPad, future phones, Android, and truthfully, this is my favorite version of Tetris that I have worked on. It’s pretty incredible when you look at this thing. Full 1080p high definition, 5.1 surround sound. I think the thing as a Tetris player that really sets this as a great game is the multiplayer functionality. Especially for those that are competitive with their Tetris playing, it is tremendous. There are so many different modes that you can go online or play locally and really test your Tetris skills against people all over the world. With the leaderboards that we have, I think it makes for a really robust multiplayer experience that, from what I have seen from comments from Twitter and different blog impressions, people are responding really well. It’s super exciting and really fun.

GZ: When you play online for multiplayer, there is the timed battle mode, but few of the Variant modes are on online. How come that wasn’t able to happen?

CD: I think we wanted to focus on some of the core Tetris mechanics. The Variants, they stray a little bit from the core Tetris, but Battle mode in particular is a mode that has been played for a while, and people are familiar with it and can jump right in playing against people rather than relearning everything. We wanted to focus on getting those modes out and making those as polished and making them the greatest experience possible.

GZ: EA has done a lot of work with Tetris games, and you guys have done a lot of work with Tetris creator Alexiy Pajitnov. Was he involved with this at all?

CD: Yeah definitely. As a matter of fact, Alexiy was at the EA press event we had in mid-November when we announced the release date of the product, and he was there speaking on behalf of The Tetris Company. We work very closely with him and the entire TTC group on all the products that we make. They are very heavily involved in this stuff.

GZ: Tetris is a very ubiquitous game, and while there are variations of the game, and there can be different modes, at the end of the day, Tetris is still Tetris. What are the challenges as a developer to bring some freshness to a game that is 25 years old.

CD: I can’t really answer that from a producers perspective, per se, but you are right. There is an innate challenge, as to your point, people have played the Marathon version of Tetris in multiple iterations. That’s also another reason me make sure to have it in all of our games, because that is the version that people are comfortable with. That will have the nostalgic appeal, of course. I think what is important in adapting it is you keep those core tenants the same—that it is still a good game, that it is still easy to play, but it is still hard to master—those core tenets of Tetris, you keep those, and then you add a twist to it. In the PS3 version, we add that twist by adding Battle mode or Team Battle mode, and at the end of the day, it is still those core mechanics of Tetris, but now we’ve added a competitive aspect. If you look at the Shared mode, it’s still the core tenets of Tetris, but now we’ve added a cooperative element. People still understand that Tetrominos are falling down in your matrix, that you can use your hard drops, but we’ll add a little twist to it. Now you’re playing with your friend and you work together to clear lines. So being able to be fresh in that respect, I believe that has allowed us to make these changes that offered different playing experiences for the user.

GZ: One of the new modes I really enjoyed was the Shared mode, because once you screw up, you screw up with your partner, and there is this sort of Venn Diagram feel of the play field where both players can drop pieces.

cD: Well, again, I apologize, as I’m not a producer on the game, I don’t really have the knowledge of the development. However, from my perspective, we knew that we were going to address more of a core audience than our mobile titles. Because of that, we offered a slew of competitive features. That’s why we’ve got the Team Battle, the Battle, the Timed Battle, the Battle with power-ups, but at the same point we realize that Tetris is a game that no matter what platform it is on, it appeals to everybody. We needed to balance everything out, so we needed something that was more on the cooperative side.

GZ: Is there anything else you’d like to say about Tetris for the PS3?

CD: Overall, I think that it’s so addicting and fun, and it was such a tremendous effort. And like you said, it was a tremendous challenge to come out with something new that warrants people’s attention. It’s great to know so far we’ve got such a positive response. These new game modes, people are responding well to them and there is so much in this game. From a marketing side, there was some concern that people would think it is just that classic Marathon mode, but really, this game is so much deeper than that for people who really want to get into it. There is a lot to offer, and I’m glad the response has been so positive so far.

GZ: Thank you for talking with us!

CD: Cool, thank you!

Check out our review of Tetris for the PS3.