Put on a VR headset, and Tetris Effect washes over you. Watching particles pulse and burst in time to music is entrancing, the background comes alive the faster and better you play. I never considered Tetris could be an emotional game, but it absolutely was when I played Tetris Effect on PS4 last year. PSVR's limited resolution couldn't stop Tetris Effect from being transcendent, but it did cloud it a bit. The PC version is the game it was meant to be: Crystal clear, smooth, and beautiful.
It really does make a difference.
"With the PS4 version of Tetris, one of the things we're most proud of is it got people feeling emotional," said designer Tetsuya Mizuguchi, when I talked to him about bringing Tetris Effect to PC. "That was the music, but it was also, we think, the visuals, and how they interacted with each other. As a game that is primarily told using particles, the fact that the PC version lets us do more particles... saying 'more particles!' is normally like, so what, who cares? But in this game, because the particles are reacting to the music and what you're doing, it actually adds to the good feeling that you get while playing the game, and it adds to the overall emotion of the levels. It's not just a visual thing like 'oh that looks better.' When I play it, that's something that I notice immediately. It's more particles, but what that ends up resulting in is a greater feeling while you're playing it."
I met with Mizuguchi, who founded Enhance Games, and Mark MacDonald, his VP of production, to talk about their work on the PC port. I also got to play it and spend a little time dabbling with the PC version's new modes, which aren't currently available on console.
There are some nice and simple additions. In the original version, you can't play a particular stage as long as you want, which some players asked for. So they added a mode for that.
"I really wanted that myself, actually," said MacDonald. "There wasn't a good way [before], it was like 150 lines, the most you'd do in any one level. Also the challenge ramps up. And people were like, 'I don't want the challenge to ramp up, I just want to play on the same level and for a longer amount of time.' And I said yeah, that's a good point. As players of our own game we want to do that too."
MacDonald provided a run down of the PC-specific features needed to make this the "ultimate" version of Tetris Effect. Unlocked framerate, flexible keybindings, 4K support, compatibility with different VR headsets and all kinds of control options. But the adjustability of finer graphical details is especially important.
"While you're making the game, there are all these things like 'ah, if we had a little more power here,' 'if we could just give people who have it the option to turn this on or off,' doing stuff like that," MacDonald said. "Doing the PC version now lets us say 'okay, let's open up all these other options, things that were just by default on, let people turn those off. But let's also add these other options, like particle quantity, particle size, and all kinds of different texture and lighting and shadows and that kind of stuff.'"
You'll be able to tweak how many particles appear on screen, and how big they are. It's still Tetris, but believe it or not, this can be a graphically demanding game. It runs on Unreal Engine 4, and MacDonald said they were using most of the power of the PS4 and PS4 Pro in the original. The PC gives them that extra horsepower for more and bigger particles.
I asked Mizuguchi what he learned from making his own version of Tetris, and whether he'd thought of applying the same interpretation to other genres. He wouldn't talk about his next game, but he did, as ever, have something thoughtful to say.
"I see Tetris Effect as kind of a proof of concept. I think we were able to achieve what we wanted to with this game, which was using this new technology, 4K, particles, the headset, to evoke this feeling and emotion. If we're able to, I would definitely be interested in using, in the same way, other types of technology, other things that might lend themselves to a deeper, richer experience.
"...What I think we were able to do with Tetris Effect is that, without changing too many of the fundamental gameplay mechanics, we were able to make this kind of new experience. So it is an interesting thought: Could this be transferred to other things? [Could we] similarly transform them into something new or exciting or more emotionally resonating? So yeah, whether or not we will do that, or that will come to pass, I can't really say. But it's definitely something that is possible. Something we think about."
Tetris Effect is out on PC on July 23.