Special: Happy Birthday!
Alexey Pajitnov was just 29 years old when he was working for the Soviet Academy of Sciences in 1984. In that year, on June 6, he completed development on the first edition of Tetris
. Yes, the puzzle game that has invaded our dreams and is built using nothing more than seven unique shapes made up of four blocks (officially called tetrads or tetriminos) turns 25 years old today.
Due to Pajitnov's status as an employee of the Soviet government, he received no royalties for his creation. Instead, the Soviets began to market the game to the rest of the world's video game companies themselves and an American version was released in 1986. While the idea behind Tetris has no "nationality", it's Russian heritage has survived and even prospered, with all versions of the game now required to feature the Russian folk tune called "Korobeiniki" (Music A from the Game Boy release).
Tetris cemented itself as one of the all-time great puzzle games when Nintendo licensed it as a launch title for their new Game Boy handheld (tagline: "From Russia With Fun!"). Many gamers consider this version (and its NES counterpart) as the most "pure" version of Tetris. However, Nintendo only owned the console rights to the game. The Russian government sold the license rights for arcade versions to Atari Games (AKA Tengen). Tengen attempted to bring their version of Tetris to the NES, but Nintendo blocked its release. Eventually, the company resorted to reverse-engineering the cartridge lock system that only allowed approved games to be played on the NES. Their version of Tetris (which was the only version at the time to include a battle mode) was also released in 1989 as one of Tengen's infamous "black cartridge" games. Due to the legal wrangling between the two companies, Tengen's Tetris is very hard to come by today.
If you want to read more about the courtroom battle between Nintendo and Tengen, I highly recommend the book Game Over: How Nintendo Zapped an American Industry, Captured Your Dollars, and Enslaved Your Children
by David Sheff.
In addition to the official versions, a ton of bootlegs and unofficial versions have been created over the years. In addition, Tetris has become a popular programming challenge for budding programmers. including Bastard Tetris (the piece picking algorithm is not random, but instead picks the worst possible piece)
The first official sequel, Tetris 2
was released on the NES and Super NES in 1993. There had been a huge number of variants and spinoffs of the game released over the years including several developed by Pajitnov himself (which include Welltris, Hatris, Faces
). But in 1996, Pajitnov was able to regain the rights to Tetris and from there the number of variants and sequels exploded. He formed The Tetris Company with Dutch game developer Henk Rogers and licensed out the game to multiple software companies, even insisting on several rules that all Tetris games must follow from then on.
The variants piled up, especially for the PlayStation and Nintendo 64. Pajitnov himself worked on Tetrisphere
for the Nintendo 64 in 1997. The New Tetris
added four-player simultaneous play and the ability to create melded blocks of Tetris pieces that form a perfect square. Tetris: The Grandmaster
was released only in Japanese arcades and ramped up the speed of the pieces considerably. Tetris 64
was also released only in Japan, but came bundled with a biofeedback unit that plugged into the N64 controller and changed the pace of the game based on your heart rate. With the recent announcement of the Wii Vitality Sensor, its possible a new Tetris game similar to Tetris 64 could be created. I was always saddened by the fact I never got a chance to play Tetris with the biofeedback sensor.
Nintendo even got back in on the act with Tetris DS
, a Nintendo-themed release that included ten-player simultaneous play. Tetris Worlds (Online Edition)
for the Xbox brought online play to the series for the first time. Tetris Evolution
brought high definition graphics to the game when it was released on the Xbox 360 in 2007 and Wii Balance Board support was included with Tetris Party
. There are even versions for the iPod and iPhone. In fact, the Sega Genesis is notable for the fact that it never received a Tetris game (due to Nintendo's exclusivity contract). Among modern systems, both the PS3 and PSP have never received a version of Tetris.