Thu. Mar 23rd, 2023

Alexey Pajitnov and Henk Rogers.
Enlarge / Alexey Pajitnov and Henk Rogers.

Sam Machkovech

LAS VEGAS—As the second and final day of the 2015 DICE Summit drew to a close, Alexey Pajitnov took the stage in a rare public appearance to talk candidly about the history and legacy of Tetris, his most famous creation. Seated next to long-time Tetris Company business partner and CEO Henk Rogers, Pajitnov shared the game’s stories in the form of a Q&A – and then the duo spoke to Ars Technica about the series’ past and future.

The panel began with Pajitnov remembering the game’s creation, which happened in 1984 while he was working for the Academy of Sciences of the Soviet Union. “I’ve done a lot of programming and research in computer science, but my heart was in puzzles and riddles — all that crazy stuff,” he told the DICE crowd. He was inspired by puzzles with five square pentomino pieces and wanted to create a computer version of putting similar pieces together. That took him quite some time, he admitted, because he had “no libraries or anything like that” to refer to while making a game from scratch.

Rogers described his first trip to Russia to secure distribution rights to the famous Game Boy version – which he planned to publish through his company Bullet-Proof Software at the time. His story didn’t address the legal battle that Nintendo ultimately won against Atari, but it also revealed previously unknown details about Rogers’ negotiations. First, Rogers admitted that he had a $2 million personal interest in the case because he borrowed so much money from his in-laws to fund the printing of the first Game Boy version.

“The day before [we met]”I was told that a small potato trader is visiting, would I like to meet him?” said Pajitnov. “When we started talking, I realized [for my] first time I met a real game designer. The know-how, the passion for the game, that’s something you can’t hide. We immediately start to like each other, even surrounded by all these bureaucrats.”

After coming to terms with Pajitnov, Rogers then had to negotiate with Pajitnov’s bosses Tetris‘ rights; this included sitting next to a telephone for eight hours – “your call could come in at any moment,” thanks to the way Soviet operators routed international calls – until his lawyer in Japan answered. Rogers begged for a last-second contract. “Give me all the rights so I can give Nintendo the rights,” Rogers said. “No more than 20 pages, no big words. I’m going to have to explain every word in this contract, and we don’t get a second chance, so it has to be fair to them, fair to me. 24 hours later, I got the best contact that I had ever seen in this industry, it was amazing.”

Tetris will be surrounded by war, not peace”

Rogers took the blame for one of the Game Boy Edition’s most annoying features: the four second delay before players could enter the “home screen”. “[With Nintendo], I had to pretend that the Russians were a tough negotiator and wouldn’t accept this or this or this. My apologies to everyone who played the Game Boy Tetrisbut I forced them to display my copyright screen [which included his company’s name] for four seconds” — and to leave it on for eight seconds if players didn’t press the Start button. He also recalled a major repair made to the game’s random-piece generator three days before the cartridge version went into production, and he said Nintendo missed it in testing because “in a game like Mario, it does not matter. That game doesn’t need a real random number generator.”

In the end, Rogers credited his “naivety” for convincing Soviet authorities to license the game — which included storming a government office without an official invitation, a move so clumsy that even his Russian translator wouldn’t follow him into the building. “That would be like going to North Korea today and trying to get a license for a North Korean game,” Rogers said. “You just don’t.”

Pajitnov was asked if he would do anything differently if he could relive that big time Tetris deal – especially in terms of giving up his rights to the game for 10 years. “I wouldn’t do it any other way, even now,” he replied. “It was a strategic decision that I wrote that I am proud of my vision at the time. Otherwise, if I fought for my royalties or rights, Tetris would be surrounded by war, not peace.” He then admitted that he had been threatened with imprisonment by the Soviet government if he had accepted Tetrismerchandising rights. “I tried to hold on to a little piece Tetris rights for myself,” said Pajitnov. ‘They were really threatening. But you [Rogers] pushed me away from this.”

He and Rogers emphasized the importance of Tetris always in the overall control of one company, which was transferred from Nintendo to The Tetris Company in 1996 – and specifically thanked “our alliance with Nintendo” for distributing trademarks and patents when the game first launched. In 1996, the duo had created the “Tetris Directive” to protect a wide variety of Tetrisgame attributes, including rotational speed and how long the game waits for a falling piece to “stick” to anything it touches, “allowing people to move from one machine to another” without having to relearn the major mechanics.

‘I’ve already imagined it Tetris in VR”

The last major challenge for that Tetris Guideline system came with the game’s transition to touch screens, a control scheme that Pajitnov admitted to Ars is “still frustrated.” The problem comes from translating a “seven buttons” game. Tetris to a touch platform, he said, especially when touch and slide don’t work on all mobile devices worldwide, and Rogers echoed complaints with the latest “tap to auto-place” system. “[In normal versions]people make the mistakes that make you want to play more TetrisRogers said. “If the computer makes the mistakes — it doesn’t give me choices — that’s a different kind of frustration.”

The duo admitted to Ars that they dream about virtual reality versions of Tetris “since the 90s”, but with the rise of Oculus Rift, they are “about” to start experimenting in earnest with head-tracking versions of the puzzle game. For now, those versions will be restrained, not eye-popping excess. “I’ve already imagined it Tetris in VR,” Rogers said.” I wouldn’t imagine anything with core changes. When children play a game, they should be able to see everything in the game at any time. As soon as you hide things – behind your back, behind something – they start to lose understanding. As kids get older they start to get the idea of ​​’there’s something hidden here’ and they play the game like it’s there, but most people don’t get to that level in gaming.”

Pajitnov told the DICE audience that his favorite modern games are still puzzlers, citing PopCap classics like Bejeweled And Zuma alongside modern, indie delights such as Threes And Current. (He also admitted still one World of Warcraft addiction.) When asked about his Tetris habits, Pajitnov told Ars that he prefers to play Tetris zone, a PC version launched in 2007 that has since been discontinued. “It’s really a guideline version of Tetriswhom I adore and know very well,’ said Pajitnov. ‘As far as Tetris As far as I’m concerned, I always come back to my computer and play with the keyboard.”

The DICE panel concluded that Rogers and Pajitnov insisted Tetris has a future as a sport – not just an ‘e-sport’, but something that competition could achieve at the Olympic level. “100 years ago, people played sports to prepare for a life of physical activity,” Rogers said. “Today, when we play computer games, we are preparing for a future where most of what we do takes place in virtual worlds. The practice of playing computer games is just what our children need to prepare for a life long virtual work.”

Frame image by Sam Machkovech

By akfire1

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