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Why Mineko’s Night Market took 8 years to make

The crafty adventure sim has gone through several iterations, but the devs prioritized their health, too

Nicole Carpenter is a senior reporter specializing in investigative features about labor issues in the game industry, as well as the business and culture of games.

Mineko’s Night Market first started to spread around social media in 2015. I remember one of the first clips I saw: a video of a person clicking around a screen to play a bunch of cats like a keyboard, each boop met with a new tone of meow. Eventually, a truck rolled past with cats piled up in the back. It looked instantly alluring. I didn’t know exactly what this game would become, but its charming art style — with cats rendered like a vintage cartoon — wiggled its way into my brain. I’ve kept an eye on its development since its debut, watching from afar as increasingly adorable clips rolled by on my Twitter feed — and as the years went on and on.

About eight years later, Mineko’s Night Market is finally ready for release; it’s coming out on Nintendo Switch as well as Mac and Windows PC on Sept. 26. Developer Meowza Games co-founders Brandi Kobayashi and Brent Kobayashi told Polygon that Mineko’s Night Market has been through several iterations before becoming the game that will be released on Tuesday: “The current [version of Mineko’s Night Market] was in development for the last two years,” Brent said. “We signed with Humble, our publisher, very early in the process — we didn’t even have much of a game at that time.”

Brent and Brandi came up with several small versions of what could have been Mineko’s Night Market, but scrapped them two or three times, Brent said. “We were almost at the point of burnout,” he said. “Mentally, it was rough,” Brandi added. At that point, they took some time off from the game, which Humble was supportive of.

“We just didn’t look at game development at all for a while,” Brent said. “We focused more on going outside — all the typical things you do when you’re trying to come down from burnout. We just needed to unplug.”

For some time, Brent wanted to cancel Mineko’s Night Market entirely, he said — to just move on to something else. But eventually, Brandi and Brent started to miss Mineko’s Night Market, and Humble helped them get back on track: “The producers at Humble really were instrumental in getting us going again, and being patient with us,” Brandi said.

Meowza Games is proud of the version of Mineko’s Night Market that people will get to play on Tuesday. The art style has remained consistent over the years, drawing inspiration from old cartoons like the TV show Samurai Jack and the movie Song of the Sea. Beyond those inspirations, Brent, who led the art design of Mineko’s Night Market, said he pulled from old Japanese cartoons with “bubbly cartoon colorfulness,” alongside subtle references to Japanese mythology.

Two people sitting in a little house drinking tea Image: Meowza Games/Humble Games

Gameplay ideas and story have remained similar throughout the years, too, but the big adjustment was pushing the game from 2D to 2.5D, Brandi said: “The original game was 3D, a side-scroller, and there was something a little bit not as tangible as we would have liked with the hand-drawn textures,” she said. “We experimented going with 2.5D.”

That means it’s 2D graphics in a 3D-ish world — “like paper dolls on a table,” Brent added. Mineko’s Night Market now feels a lot more open to players, they said, so players can explore the story and world as they please, crafting and playing on Mount Fugu island and, of course, attending the titular night markets alongside a roster of cats.

It’s been a long and difficult road, but Brandi and Brent are ultimately grateful they returned to finish the project, with Humble’s help. In Brandi’s words: “They let us have the opportunity to make the game we wanted to make while having good mental health.”