Tetris Journey Through Three Decades


On this day, also known as National Tetris Day, June 6, 1984, Tetris was born into the public’s mind as a puzzle that has since grown through the past three decades into one of the most played games in gaming history. The game that inspires players to form same-colored rows and blocks with strange, weird looking shapes that drop from the top of the screen, before everything reaches the top of the screen, enjoyed blockbuster demand and two million sales before 1988. Today, there are more than 425 million downloads that people have paid for, mostly for mobile use, keeping Tetris alive and well, even 30 years later.

The game was named Tetris by the developer, Russian born Alexey Pajitnov, in conjunction with the word for number four in Greek or perhaps giving a nod to his favorite childhood game, Pentominoes. He and Henk Rogers, who licenses video games, reminisced about the harrowing days of applying for the rights to their video game. Rogers recalls how he spent two nerve-wracking days in Moscow being questioned by businessmen, lawyers and KGB officers for hours while some 200,000 games were being assembled in Japan for $10 each cartridge. He also recalls how at the time he had used his in-laws property for collateral.

Pajitnov states that his primary design of Tetris 30 years ago was flawed due to the screen filling up with tiles too quickly. He goes on to say that after only 20 seconds the screen would be filled with blocks and that he had to adjust for the lines that were solid to disappear, as there was no point to keeping them on the screen once they were finished. He claims that was the key to making Tetris such a huge success through its journey over the past three decades. However, scientific studies done involving Tetris claim that the games enjoy such a high level of return is because of what they term the Zeigarnik Effect. Generally what that means is that people find it easier to remember unfinished tasks that are uncomplicated versus tasks that still need to be finished.

Scientists state that Tetris is a wonderful game for such an effect. Like a revolving door of unfinished tasks, it brings the player into a compulsive loop of finishing and starting new tasks in a seemingly endless flow of activity. However, there is no mistaking Tetris for anything but what it is: a mind-numbing, addictive game. There was no scoring or levels in the original version of the game. Through its journey over the past three decades, Tetris added levels and scoring to enhance the players gaming experience and to provide challenges in which to look forward to and conquer.

Although created on this day, three decades ago, Tetris has had quite the journey through the years. Since first being developed in 1984 by Alexey Pajitnov, the game had been in the control of the Computer Center of the Soviet Academy of Sciences until 1988, when Henk Rogers appeared on the scene. In spite of thinking the game was not that inspiring, Rogers admits he found the game undeniable addictive and went after the rights to it, not stopping until he acquired all of them in 1989. Yet Pajitnov did not receive any compensation from the royalties on his game until 1996, and it was not until 2005, when Rogers bought out the remaining shares owned by what once used to be the bureau that handled software exports, Elorg, that Alexey Pajitnov gained control over and the rights to the game he invented in 1984.

Henk Rogers went to Nintendo in 1989 and convinced that company to let him build Tetris for them. They agreed, but nine months later, when it was presented to them, they said that the game was too weak for their Famicom System, the Japanese name of the Nintendo Entertainment System. However, when Rogers heard that Nintendo had released the Game Boy handheld in Japan, he figured that the handheld platform was probably the best suit for the game.

Rogers convinced the CEO of Nintendo North America, the body of Nintendo Company Limited that includes a game with their system, to include Tetris instead of Mario, with the Game Boy if he wanted everyone, not just little boys, to buy their machine. His strategy worked, as Tetris became what some call the game that made Game Boy and others say that the handheld made the game.

Either way, Tetris has had an iconic journey through the past three decades, keeping it on par with many newer games that have appeared on the market and perked the public’s interest. The game is currently being geared up for release of Tetris Ultimate on the Xbox One and PlayStation 4. As well, Electronic Arts has updated a newer version of Tetris Blitz for their Android and iOS, which they are calling Retro Blitz, to honor the 30-year anniversary of the obsessive, mesmerizing game that everyone loves to hate.

The new Electronic Arts version of Tetris boasts colors, shapes and styles that pay homage to the original 1989 Game Boy game that not only lasted through three decades, but became vastly popular. Ubisoft, the maker of Tetris Ultimate, has included new visuals, interesting modes and more features that allow one to four players access to six distinct modes of play hits Xbox One and PlayStation 4 sometime in the summer.

By Korrey Laderoute

Rolling Stone

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