25 Years of Falling Blocks

6 06 2009

On this day 65 years ago, Brave soldiers of the Allied Forces faced the daunting task of storming the beaches of Normandy and succeeded. But since everyone loves talking about that and this is a games blog, I’m going to talk about a different anniversary. Yes, it was on this day in 1984 that Alexey Pajitnov created possibly the most addicting video game of all time, and subsequently got screwed out of his rightful kudos, but i’ll get to that in a bit.

Inspired by the game of Pentominoes, Alexey created the game of Tetris while working at the Computer Centre of the Moscow Academy of Science. Trimming down the size of the pentomino motif down to 4 blocks (Tetrads, later called “Tetrominoes”) instead of 5 and adding a time factor where the object was to not fill up the screen, and thus, Tetris. However since the game was written on the Soviet Government’s dime, they snapped up all rights to it (or at least tried to), forming “Elektronorgtechnica” (or ELORG) in order to deal with the possible profit to be had from such a game. At least, that’s what I’m gathering from the Internet, but we all know how reliable that is.

Spectrum HoloByte attempted to bring the game to the Western World through a convoluted series of deals and rights issues while a British company named Andromeda had tried to get the PC rights direct from Pajitnov himself. Of course, by 1986 a version had already landed stateside and rendered a lot of this moot, though Andromeda did eventually secure home PC rights for a time.

Things just got more and more complicated from there, but most people never even knew about that, instead being easily enraptured by “The Soviet Mind Game” as it were. Now Tetris was not the first game I ever remember playing, though it was the first Game Boy game I ever played, and probably was the same for many other people as well, since arguably the Game Boy version of Tetris is what allowed Nintendo to completely run over any competitors in the fledgling handheld market.

How can something so simple endure after all these years? Is it the easy to understand play mechanic? Is it the versus mode which probably had one of the earliest instances of being able to be a total dick to your opponent? Is it KGB mind control? who can say? All I can say is it’s still a hell of a lot of fun. As for Pajintov, he eventually went on to work at Microsoft, working on a few of their entertainment pack game software suites and also the game Hexic that now comes default with Xbox Live. He’s also one of the major faces behind The Tetris Company, which manages all the rights to the game now. So he’s doing all right for himself I’d say, even though I feel he still hasn’t really gotten all the credit he truly deserves for creating something so masterful. Though I guess the massive attack against all shareware versions of Tetris in the mid-90s probably balances that out. But anyway. Let’s not judge by that one event.

Anyway here’s to 25 years of Tetris, and here’s hoping we get 25 more.