The History Of Tetris
Alexey Pajitnov and Henk Rogers reveal how an 8-bit puzzler dominated the world
There are some videogames out there that are incredibly difficult to tear yourself away from. We’re also aware that games can distract you from life’s more tedious tasks. What to make of Tetris, then? A puzzler that gets so inside your brain, it can lead to the medically recognised ‘Tetris Effect’ – where you play so much of the game you actually start hallucinating tetrominoes in your day-to-day life. Yet it’s a runaway bestseller that’s essentially about tidying up the playfield over and over again. Cleaning, we imagine, has never been so successful.
It was a strong pairing of developers which saw this iconic puzzler reach dizzying, multimillion-selling heights, and it ended up in the slippy mitts of so many people and companies that the entire western licensing deal could easily become the basis of a gripping holiday page-turner. Never mind that it’s already been the subject of a BBC documentary, Tetris: From Russia With Love, Tetris’ origin story is richer than a Russian oligarch.
To go into the ins and outs of what happened between 1984 and 1989 would likely take over the entirety of this issue. Suffice to say 29-year-old Russian computer engineer Alexey Pajitnov toiled on his humble Elektronica 60 computer at the Soviet Academy Of Sciences in Moscow and created a prototype of an intriguing puzzle game that would eventually be fought over by companies such as Nintendo, Mirrorsoft, Spectrum Holobyte, Andromeda and
The breakthrough was a PC version in 1985, created by Alexey with the help of colleague Dmitry Pavlovsky and a young programmer called Vadim Gerasimov.
The whole shebang had been inspired by the board game, Pentominoes, which involved putting 12 types of five-square pentomino pieces on to an 8x8 grid, rotating and reflecting them to fit without overlapping. Alexey realised that 12 pieces was too much – “People would not be able to remember so many,” he says – so he ditched pentominoes for tetrominoes (geometric shapes composed of four squares connected
Henk Rogers Managing director, The Tetris Company
MAYA Rogers President and CEO, Blue Planet Software
Alexey Pajitnov Creator of Tetris
» Tetris’ popularity skyrocketed with the Game Boy version. It would go on to become the handheld’s bestselling title.