I have a friend who’s always showing off new gadgets. He was the first among us to own a PSP (also the first to have it stolen. Hah Hah), and the first to own an iPhone. Each time he pulled me to the side to show a trick on his nifty new wireless hand-held WUT-EVAH, my only response would be, ‘Yeah yeah, but does it have Tetris?’
Of course it did.
The plan concocted by two Russian computer engineers and a high school student to create a computer funfare of games in 1985 gave birth to one of the all time best in computer games. The pioneering trio were Alexey Pajitnov, Vadim Gerasimov, and Dmitri Pavlovsky, and guess what? They barely made a cent out of it all- they gave away free copies of the game to friends. As the game became more popular, market-savvy hounds picked up the scent of possible profit. In 1991, Pajitnov migrated out of Russia to the US (where the concept of ‘copyright’ and ‘intellectual property’ existed), and formed the Tetris company with Henk Rogers to make some big bucks. While the other two programmers were left out of the loop, and possible roubles along it, different companies started squabbling for marketing rights.
As destiny had it, Nintendo would be the one to introduce Tetris to the US, sell about 3 million copies, and lead us to Tetris making the second spot on IGN’s list of Top 100 Games of All Time in 2007.
But greedy entreprenuers, legal battles, and broken camaraderie that ran for almost a decade aside- Tetris today remains the way it was when the original creators from the Russian Academy of Sciences finished tinkering with it. Modifications of the game are cosmetic at best- based on the platform the game is running on.
In its infant stages, Tetris (unnamed at the time) was merely a game where players moved tetraminoes (4-piece blocks) around the screen with their cursor. This sounded as fun as- well, watching blocks move on a computer screen. Pajitnov, however, found a way to spice things up. He suggested having the blocks fall in a rectangular space and pile up from the base- unless one completely filled the bottom row to eliminate it.
In a portmanteau fashion, the words Tetraminoes and Tennis were combined to form ‘Tetris’; the game of falling blocks created in MS-DOS that would later create legions of addicts ranging from five to fifty year olds.
The falling blocks can be rotated and moved from side to side based on the players agility in recognizing pile-up patterns. The speed of the game increases according to levels. You can even reach a level where the shape of the blocks is barely noticeable until it hits the base. This makes it impossible to direct and fit the tetraminoes into proper gaps, causing the pile-up to avalanche, causing you to see the words ‘GAME OVER’, causing you to yell profanities, scare your baby sister and in turn get yelled at by your mother.
The gradually increasing difficulty of Tetris drives people nuts- only because it is so gratifying and oh-so sweet to see your score grow before the entire rectangle is filled. Mathematicians have even categorized Tetris as an NP-hard problem, meaning, its a challenging puzzle even for computers to solve. Hardly suprising, this made regular Tetris players have increased mental function capacity- reflected from their continously decreasing glucose consumption as they played the game.
But such mental stimulation has it’s side effects. After playing Tetris for some time, players literally ‘see Tetris’. They will find tetraminoes falling at the periphery of vision and react in their mind as if playing the game. Tetris even penetrates the dreams of some addicts. Together, these form the reknowned ‘Tetris effect’; now widely recognized as a form of hallucination.
So, whether you want to increase your IQ, or you want a legal trip- Tetris is the game deceptively easy enough to be played and enjoyed by anyone. But be forewarned of addiction and subsequent loss of friends. They may start avoiding you because your simple game making you ‘see blocks everywhere’ sounds a tad complicated.