Tetris and Alexey Pajitnov: A complex history for a simple game

How many times have I dreamt about Tetri´s figures falling while sleeping?! Damn! Hundreds!! And I am sure I wasn´t the only one, lots of people have had the same experience: Addicted to this arcade videogame made of simple figures. Always thinking about how to erase lines to get to a harder level.

The person behind this game nightmare: Mr. Alexey Pajitnov, a computer engineer from Russia, who developed it in 1984 while working for the Computing Centre of the Soviet Academy of Sciences, in Moscow.

Mr. Pajitnov was inspired by a popular game, Pentomino, played on an grid by two or three player where the figures were composed of five squares, connected orthogonally (The Pentaminoes. The ones with four squares were called Tetraminoes). The name “Tetris” was born by joining two of Mr. Pajitnov´s passions: Tetraminoes and tennis.

The history behind this game really deserves a film:

As he was a worker for the Soviet goverment the institution licensed and managed Tetris and he received no loyalties at all for it. Goverment advertised the game under the slogan “From Russia with Love”.

The first version was developed on an Elektronika 60 computer and after that ported to an IBM PC. This last version “made its way to Budapest, where it was ported to various platforms and was “discovered” by a British software house named Andromeda. They attempted to contact Pajitnov to secure the rights for the PC version, but before the deal was firmly settled, they had already sold the rights to Spectrum HoloByte. After failing to settle the deal with Pajitnov, Andromeda attempted to license it from the Hungarian programmers instead”.

And all this happened behind the Iron Curtain when the KGB was watching any activity in the USSR that was attracting foreign visitors…

The nex video explains a little bit how it all happened, the first attempt to sell the videogame (YouTube, 0:58min):

At the end, Pajitnov, together with Vladimir Pokhilko, and HCI academic who helped him in developing the videogame, moved to the United States and founded the Tetris Company in Hawaii with Henk Rogers, a video game designer and entrepreneur, who won the license for Nintendo’s handheld and console versions of the computer game Tetris.

A complex history for one of the simplest videogames ever created, one of the ones such addictive that even got a category in mental dissorders (The Tetris hallucination) and drove companies to see how workers were much more less productive because of this addiction.

Video games have been revolutionized from the simple yet complex Tetris to modern music video game tournaments on the next guitar hero.