Of my 3.5 years as an Inventor, Tetris 360 is my proudest achievement, hands down. Tetris 360 adds one simple mechanic to the well-loved Tetris game – gravity detection. The player twists and turns the device to control the direction in which the Tetris blocks fall. Most interestingly, Tetris blocks can be dropped and cleared on any of the 4 sides. Instead of spawning from the top, the Tetris blocks spawn from a rectangle located in the center of the screen – if the blocks get stacked too high, it’s game over! It’s a radically different way to play Tetris!
If you’re reading this, there is no doubt in my mind that you’ve played some version of Tetris before. In a period of just 5 years, Tetris sold more than 100 million copies for mobile devices alone. Tetris is the epitome of a casual game – it’s incredibly simple and accesible yet endlessly addictive i.e. easy to pick up, hard to put down! Inventing a new “spin” for this everlasting mechanic and having it approved by both Mattel and the Tetris brand was especially humbling. They even used the name I came up with for it!
The idea was sparked by the then trend in video gaming – gestural controls. The Wii had recently been launched and there had already been a bunch of handheld games taking advantage of this exploding trend. Plus, the iPhone had just been launched and we knew the upcoming app store would certainly result in more interest into this trend.
I brainstormed some of the top games in multiple genres including board, card and video games. I thought about how I could make each of them work in a stand alone handheld device with tilt controls. I gravitated towards a screen-based experience instead of a more organic experience like Bop It since it seemed there was a lot more we could do with a screen. Eventually I realized Tetris would be a perfect fit – it already uses gravity as a core mechanic! So the challenge was to figure out how to make tilting an integral part of the experience.
Naturally, one would think to replace the left/right buttons with tilt sensors and keep the gameplay mechanic the same. I knew this wouldn’t be enough to sell the idea. I had to come up with something more creative and more unique. I started to explore the possibility of allowing the blocks to drop on all 4 sides. It seemed there was something there so I kept on going.
Next, I made a few paper prototypes and mocked up a few different screen layouts. When I came up with a plan which solved some of the key issues, I moved on to creating a simple flash demo. This first demo was a canned experience (no user interaction) but was enough for me to work out the biggest details like how wide the screen should be, how the lines would clear and what to do with the odd corner situations. Seeing how it could work furthered my interest in the idea – but I still wasn’t sure it would be fun. The last step was to create a fully playable demo – and guess what? It was REALLY fun!
Tetris 360 made it through the insanely rigorous invention submission process, was manufactured and then sold in toy stores, game stores, department stores and many other places. In fact, Best Buy featured Tetris 360 as one of 5 events in their “Brain Playground Day!”
Later, Mattel extended the 360 platform by making an Uno 360 version and a Pictionary 360 version. That feels pretty cool, too