June 7, 2014

Tetris at 30

On this day 30 years ago, the Soviet Union's greatest contribution to videogaming was released. Tetris was a tile-laying puzzle game designed by Alexey Pajitnov and released on 6 June 1984 for the Elektronica 60 computer. It is a fairly simple game: a series of geometric shapes fall from the top of the screen - each is comprised of four connected squares - and the player must rotate each shape as it falls and fit it in among the shapes already sitting on the bottom. Once a complete line of squares is formed, that line vanishes - and so on. It's simple, yes, but it's also quite difficult once the speed at which the shapes (or 'tetrominoes') fall increases.

I don't think it's an exaggeration to call Tetris the greatest puzzle videogame of all time. There have been many others, but I'm not sure any of them are as instinctively easy to learn but as wonderfully challenging as Tetris. It's also one of the highest-selling games ever made, with an estimated 170 million copies sold across countless platforms and consoles.

The game has a pretty interesting history as well, with an English videogame publisher stumbling onto the game in Budapest before the international rights were somehow sold to two companies at the same time. By the time the Soviet distributor Elorg stepped onto the scene in 1988 there were seven different versions of the game floating around Western markets.

It was ultimately Nintendo who signed with Elorg to distribute a version of Tetris for home and handheld consoles. The game became the 'killer app' that sealed the long-time success of the Nintendo Gameboy, selling 35 million copies on that platform alone.

Since then Tetris has seen a remarkable number of re-releases and adaptations, including Tetris II, The New Tetris and Tetrisphere. None of them ever had quite the simple aesthetic and addictive nature of the original - but then again, when do they ever?

Creator Alexey Pakjitnov only started receiving royalties for his creation in 1996, but he continues to develop videogames including the aforementioned Tetrisphere, the Windows and Xbox game Hexic and the iOS puzzler Marbly.

So happy birthday to Tetris: 30 years old, and still the greatest puzzle game of all time.

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