Tetris has been the king of the video game puzzle genre since the ’80s. It is the definitive example of gameplay over graphics. Even the most primitive of computers can run Tetris and it will be just as enjoyable as if it were running on a top-end machine. You have to guide different shaped blocks to the bottom of the screen, in order to make them into lines that will disappear. The longer the game goes on, the faster the blocks will drop. Tetris is as simple as it is addictive, which is why it has appeared on almost every computer that has been released.
It might be surprising to learn that a simple game like Tetris was built on a foundation of lawsuits, rights issues and stolen money. We are here today to look into the fascinating history of one of the most popular games in the world. From the psychological effect of stacking blocks on top of each other, to the upcoming trilogy of movies.
Here are Fifteen Things You Didn’t Know About Tetris!
15. The Tetris Effect
When video games reached the 16-bit era, the depictions of violence grew more and more realistic. There was a growing concern amongst the parents and lawmakers of America, about how these images were affecting children. When the first school shootings happened, video games proved to be a useful scapegoat to those seeking answers. From that point on, a lot of research went into determining the long-term mental effects of seeing violence in the media.
One video game which is proven to have an effect on the human brain is Tetris. There is a recognised psychological condition, known as the “Tetris Effect”. It is caused when you perform an action repeatedly over a long period of time. When the action ends, you start to see things relating to that action in real life. In Tetris terms, this means that you will see the shapes of the blocks in real objects, as well as the possible ways in which they can be stored together.
14. The Inventor Of Tetris Made No Money (Because The Soviet Union Took It All)
The creator of Tetris is a man named Alexey Pajitnov. He designed the game whilst working for the Academy of Science of the USSR. The idea for Tetris came about while Pajitnov was working on designing artificial intelligence for the Soviet Union. It took him less than two weeks to create the game. When Tetris proved popular with his colleagues, plans were made for the game to make its way to the public.
Tetris is one of the most financially successful video game series of all time… or at least it is for everyone except Alexey Pajitnov. The Soviet Union took all of the money for Tetris, leaving nothing for the game’s creator. It took the end of communism in Russia for Pajitnov to finally earn some cash for his creation. In 1996, the rights to Tetris finally returned to Pajitnov. He was able to create the Tetris Company, which now owns the full licencing rights to the game. It took over a decade of waiting (and the fall of the Iron Curtain) for Pajitnov to receive recognition and compensation for his landmark video game.
13. The Mess That Was Tetris Ultimate
Tetris is a very easy game to code. You will see numerous unofficial Tetris clones on every computer ever made. Learning how to make a Tetris-style game is one of the first things you will be taught in a game design course. It is so simple to make, you would have to be a complete idiot to screw it up.
Ubisoft somehow managed to break Tetris, through nothing more than sheer incompetence.
Tetris Ultimate was intended to be the version of the game that would be released on the current generation of consoles. The PlayStation 4 and Xbox One versions of the game took abuse from critics, due to numerous bugs in the online mode and framerate issues. The fact that Tetris was having problems running on the two most powerful modern gaming consoles only made the issues more pronounced. Nintendo managed to get Tetris working without problems on the Game Boy, but Ubisoft couldn’t do it on the PlayStation 4 & Xbox One?
12. The Tetris Ownership Rights
When a developer wants to release a game for a console, they have to work out a deal with that console’s owner (Sony, Nintendo, or Microsoft). This wasn’t so in the early days of gaming. It was like the wild west. Companies used to develop and release games for the Atari and Nintendo Entertainment System without ever seeking permission. This eventually changed, as those companies became more litigious and started including means of preventing unofficial cartridges from working.
There was a version of Tetris released on the Nintendo Entertainment System which needed to be recalled due to licencing issues. This version of the game is often referred to as Tengen Tetris, after the company that developed it. This was due to confusion over who actually owned the licence to distribute Tetris games. After Tengen Tetris was released, Nintendo took Tengen to court in order to prevent the game from being sold. Nintendo won, and over a quarter of a million copies of Tengen Tetris were recalled. As there are so few copies of Tengen Tetris in the world, the cartridges have drastically increased in value.
11. The Secret Swearing In Tetrisphere
There have been many attempts at making 3D Tetris games over the years. These are usually still fun, but aren’t quite as good as the 2D original. The breadth of options available on a 3D plane can be too overwhelming at times. This is why the Tetris games on modern systems tend to be prettier versions of the 2D original.
Tetrisphere for the Nintendo 64 was an attempt at bringing Tetris to a rounder world. The player had to destroy blocks that formed a sphere, in order to reveal what was inside. It was certainly an interesting take on the idea of Tetris.
When fans went digging through the files of Tetrisphere, they discovered that the things inside the game were more interesting than what was happening on the screen. There are debug messages still inside of Tetrisphere, that were left by the developers. These concerned known crashes within the game, and are all filled with profanities. It seems that the people who made Tetrisphere weren’t enjoying their job.
10. Tetris & The Nintendo World Championships Cartridge
In 1990, Nintendo held several World Championship events in America. These toured across different cities, with the winners being invited to a final event at Universal Studios in Florida. While the previous events held contests that used commercially released games, the finals used something unique. They used specially made cartridges that came loaded with three games. The players had to earn a high score on Super Mario Bros. and Rad Racer, with the final game being Tetris. They had six and half minutes in which to accomplish this.
Copies of the cartridges that carry the game used in the Nintendo World Championships were given away to those who made it to the finals. There were also silver versions of the cartridges that were given away as part of a Nintendo Power contest. These two kinds of cartridges have become some of the most expensive video games for collectors to buy. This is due to the fact that they are an important part of gaming history, rather than the brief snippets of Super Mario Bros, Rad Racer and Tetris that are one them.
9. Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Tetris Song
The only thing more addictive than Tetris’ gameplay is its theme tune. It might be the most universally recognised piece of video game music of all time. The Tetris theme is a Russian folk song, called “Korobeiniki”. This song dates back 1861, meaning that it has long been in the public domain (which is likely one of the reasons it was chosen for the game). Korobeiniki is a song about a peddler, who offers his goods to a girl in order to win her heart.
When Tetris popularised the song across the world, it lead to the creation of a Eurodance remix of the track. It was released as a single by a DJ named Doctor Spin. The “Tetris” song received a live performance on the popular British music show, Top of the Pops. If you have a fetish for women wearing Tetris blocks on their clothes, then this video has you covered.
Doctor Spin was actually a pseudonym. The song was composed by Andrew Lloyd Webber, the man responsible for some of the most popular musicals of all time, including Jesus Christ Superstar, Cats, Evita and Phantom of the Opera. He has wisely left “Tetris” off his résumé.
8. The Kill Screen
A lot of early arcade games had something called a “Kill Screen”. This was something that happened if the game kept on going for too long. The old computers that carried these games could not count beyond a certain number. This meant that if your score was too high or you reached a certain level, then the game couldn’t handle it anymore. It would start to glitch out and become impossible to play. You could not progress past that point, hence the name Kill Screen.
The NES version of Tetris has a Kill Screen of its own. Should you reach level 29, the blocks will descend at twice the usual speed. This makes it impossible to manoeuvre the blocks, forcing them to pile up in the middle of the screen and end your game. The only way to progress past the Kill Screen is to use a tool-assisted emulator that can perform the moves quicker than a human being can.
7. The Serious Story Of Tetris Worlds
If there is one game that doesn’t need a story, it’s Tetris. Why would it even require a story? You have to line up blocks of increasing speed… because it’s fun. The addition of some world-ending narrative won’t make the experience any more entertaining or engaging.
There was one Tetris game that took itself as seriously as Avatar. It was Tetris Worlds on the PlayStation 2, which was released in 2001.
In Tetris Worlds, you are a member of an alien race that looks like a mixture between a cube, an eyeball and a shrimp’s tail. The sun in your solar system is about to go supernova and wipe out all life on your homeworld. As the Tetranaut, it is your job to solve the puzzles within monolith-like portals that lead to other worlds, where your species can be safely evacuated. These portals are locked with Tetris games that need completing. The fate of your civilisation lies with your ability to play Tetris. This is all told to the player through some painfully bad voice acting in the intro cinematic.
6. Tetris 64 Wants To Feel Your Heartbeat
When the Wii was at the height of its popularity, there was a peripheral announced for the system that was intended to be able to read the player’s heartbeat. It was called the Wii Vitality Sensor, and it was intended to clip onto the player’s finger. This would send accurate readings of your current heart rate to the system, which the game would then react to. The Wii Vitality Sensor was cancelled, due to the fact that it didn’t properly work with everyone.
This wasn’t the first time Nintendo used the concept of a heartbeat sensor. There was a version of Tetris that was released on the Nintendo 64 in Japan, called Tetris 64. It came packaged with a “Bio-Sensor” accessory. This clipped onto the player’s ear and could send information on the player’s heartbeat to Tetris 64. This meant that the game would speed up or slow down, depending on the player’s heart rate. Tetris 64 was the only game that worked with the Bio Sensor, and neither received an international release.
5. The Game Boy Success Story
There is a disagreement among video game fans concerning the title of “best-selling game” for each system. There are those who feel that pack-in games should not be on the list, due to the fact that they are given away for free with the system and are not technically sold. As it stands, games like Wii Sports, Duck Hunt and Super Mario Bros. are listed as selling millions of copies, even though a portion of those sales came from pack-in games.
The best-selling game on the Game Boy is Tetris. This takes into account the fact that it was a pack-in game. Tetris sold around 35 million copies, even though the Game Boy itself shipped roughly 120 million units around the world. Even the mighty Pokémon franchise could not dethrone Tetris. The combined sales of Pokémon Red & Blue only reached around 24 million.
4. The Tetris & Pokémon Crossover
The anticipation for the inevitable Pokémon & Tetris crossover was feverish. What amazing things would Pikachu and the L-Block do together? Would the Tetriminos arrive in the Pokémon world in search of their lost brother, Missingno? It could have been like the big fight scene in Civil War, with Ash’s team of Pokémon taking on the Tetris blocks.
Sadly, this did not come to pass. The crossover title that featured the Game Boy’s two biggest franchises wasn’t even released on the Game Boy. Pokémon Tetris was released on a system called the Pokémon mini. This was a small handheld console that could play Pokémon themed titles. The game was basically just Tetris, except you caught different Pokémon at the end of each stage.
3. The Love For The L-Block
Gamefaqs started out as a website that allowed players to upload their own guides for video games. As time went on, the Gamefaqs forum grew larger and larger, until it eclipsed the original purpose of the site. In 2002, Gamefaqs started holding regular popularity contests for video games and their characters. These tend to be contentious, with accusations of cheating being a common fixture of each competition. The most recent of these contents was the Best Game Ever award of 2015, which was won by Undertale.
A common complaint of the Gamefaqs contests is that the same games & characters win each time. The winners were mostly Final Fantasy VII and The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. In 2007, the fans decided to revolt. When the sixth Character Battle contest was being held, the fans ditched Cloud Strife & Link and voted for the L-Block from Tetris instead. The movement grew, as fans of the other games complained about the contest being ruined. The L-Block won the vote, amidst controversy.
2. The Terrible Philips CD-i Port
Tetris Ultimate somehow managed to be a buggy version of Tetris on modern gaming consoles. While it is easy to blame Ubisoft for their lack of quality control (and we do), they weren’t the first people to ever mess up Tetris.
The Philips CD-i was an early attempt at mixing a gaming console with a home entertainment system (before Sony perfected the idea with their PlayStation line). The CD-i has since become infamous for a slew of terrible Zelda and Mario games that were released on the system, as part of a deal they had with Nintendo.
In 1992, a version of Tetris was released for the Philips CD-i. This was considered to be the worst version of the game until Tetris Ultimate. The reason it is so bad is because it has load times. Every time you went up a level, the game would stop, in order to load a new background and song. The music was pretty depressing too. They swapped out the classic Tetris theme for something that sounds like the music from a soap opera.
1. The Upcoming Tetris Movie Trilogy
There have been many attempts at turning video games into movies and they have mostly been awful. The best they can hope for is a “so bad it’s good” reputation, that might earn it a cult following (like Street Fighter). Film companies still keep trying, however. It seems that no amount of negative reviews for Assassin’s Creed will deter them.
You would think that Tetris would be the last video game that could be turned into a movie. The story of how Tetris was made might make an interesting film, with the tale of Alexey Pajitnov’s struggle to get his money, or the rights issues surrounding the game.
That is not happening. Instead, we are getting a trilogy of Tetris movies.
One can only guess what the story of a Tetris movie would be. All we have so far is vague information concerning the movie having a massive budget and being filmed in China. Nothing has been announced as far as a premise, story or potential actors. Rest assured, if Tom Hardy or Asa Butterfield is in talks to play the L-Block, then we’ll be the first to report it!
Tetris is due to begin filming this year.