Tet312-TitleGallery: Tetris

Critical thinking, an analytical quality that is required, at various lengths, of every existing video game. Before video games told complex interactive stories or pitted players from around the world, in an arena against each other, video games acted as mental tests, some more difficult than others.

“Tetris” was, and is, one of the greatest mental tests of its medium. It has, on several occasions, been the subject of academic research. Vladimir Polkhilko was the first clinical psychologist to conduct experiments using “Tetris.” It has been used in several fields including theory of computation, algorithmic theory, and cognitive psychology.

250px-Tetris_NES_play“Tetris” or “Те́трис” is a Soviet title-matching puzzle video game originally designed and programmed by Alexey Pajitnov. Alexey was born in 1956, he developed “Tetris” while working for the Dordnitsyn Computing Centre of the Soviet Academy of Sciences in Moscow.

Pajitnov was an artificial intelligence researcher tasked with testing the capabilities of new hardware, he would do so by writing simple games for them. He created “Tetris,” the name derives from the Greek numerical prefix “tetra” and Pajitnov’s love for tennis, combining the terms. Originally he wanted to create the game around pentominoes, but instead found that too difficult, and used tetrominoes (a four-element special case of polyminoes).

The Elektronika 60 that he had been working with had only text based display, so the tetrominoes formed letter characters, he soon realized the completed lines caused the screen to fill up too quickly, so he decided to make them disappear. With that he had created “Tetris.” With the help of 16-year old (at the time) Vadim Gerasimov who ported Pajitnov’s original game to the PC architecture, and Dmitry Pavolvsky, the game began spreading throughout Moscow. The game was ported to the IBM PC.

Unsure of how to publish his game and fearful of the response of the Soviet regime if he did so, Pajitnov took the opportunity offered by Perestrika and gave the rights to the Soviet government for ten years. Pajitnov did not receive any royalties for the game.

“Tetris” was the first game to be exported from the USSR to the United States. It was published by Spectrum Holobyte for Commodore 64 and IBM PC.

150px-NPTetrisMany details on licensing are still uncertain, but in 1987 Andromeda managed to obtain copyright licensing for the IBM PC version and any other home computer system. They released a 1988 version on their Commodore 64 platform.

By 1989, half a dozen different companies claimed rights to create and distribute “Tetris” software for home computers, game consoles, and handheld systems. Elorg, however, held that none of the companies were legally entitled to produce an arcade version, and signed those rights over to Atari Games, while it signed non-Japanese console and handheld rights over to Nintendo.

“Tetris” was on show at the January 1988 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, where it was picked up by Dutch games publisher Henk Rogers, then based in Japan, which eventually led to an agreement brokered with Nintendo that saw “Tetris” bundled with every Game Boy. Rogers later stated “Tetris made Game Boy and Game Boy made Tetris.”

With so many rights, there were so many lawsuits. Atari Games had sued Nintendo for the rights, but the courts ruled that Nintendo was the only company with the rights to “Tetris” on home game systems. Atari’s software division Tengen caused Tengen to recall an unknown number of copies sold of “TETRIS: The Soviet Mind Game.” Lawsuites between the companies over the NES version would continue through 1993.

250px-TETЯIS_The_Soviet_Mind_GamePajitnov moved to the United Stated in 1991. It wasn’t until 1996 when he started earning royalties once him and Henk Rogers formed The Tetris Company. Upon formation of the company many game publishers received cease-and-desist letters to take down knock-off versions of the game.

The game has been studied by computer scientists, psychologists, and mathematicians as well. We still see the impact of “Tetris” in popular culture every day, being featured at the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Games and having its memorable theme featured in Ubisoft’s “Just Dance 2015.”

In 2009, Game Informer put “Tetris” third on their list of Top 200 Games of all Time. The New York Times reported “Tetris” was named to a  list of the ten most important video games of all time. After announced at the 2007 Game Developers Conference, the Library of Congress took up the video game preservation proposal and began with 10 games, including “Tetris.”

In a time where video games had just become popularized in the United States, Alexey Pajitnov and his team created a game more addictive and complex than anything that had yet to be released. At the time, no one knew where the future of video games would go, or how it would evolve, it is, and has always been an art like no other. The art of storytelling, graphic design, are all apparent, but it was all built on a foundation of critical thinking and mental dexterity, something that other art mediums don’t have.