Few games can lay claim to being the undisputed king of an entire videogame genre. But when it comes to videogame puzzling, no other title can come close to matching Tetris for sales, acclaim, influence, cultural impact, or enduring popularity.
Tetris’ concept is as fiendish as it is simple. Interlock falling geometric shapes (“Tetrominos”) in order to make perfect horizontal rows. Make a row and it disappears. Fail to connect the correct Tetrominos and your computer screen fills up, until no more can drop, at which point it’s game over.
Tetris was designed by Soviet computer engineer and programmer Alexey Pajitnov in June 1984. A mere five years later, Pajitnov’s creation was already setting the record for the Longest-running puzzle videogame series, releasing in miniaturized form for Nintendo’s Game Boy handheld in 1989 and becoming a global sensation.
Not that Pajitnov was seeing many royalties for his beloved brainchild. Having designed the game on the Soviet-made computer terminal Electronika 60 at the Russian Academy of Science’s Computer Centre, Tetris was initially only available in the Soviet Union having been ported onto the IBM PC by Pajitnov’s colleagues Vadim Gerasimov and Dmitry Pavlovsky.
Eventually the game did land into the hands of a group of Hungarian programmers who ported it onto the Apple II and the 8-bit Commodore 64. And from there, word of Tetris swept like wildfire, reaching the big software houses who knew ingenuity when it hit them.
UK’s Andromeda swooped first, but before the British company had sealed a licensing deal with Pajitnov, it had sold the game’s rights on to the US company Mirrorsoft who in turn released home computer versions of Tetris through its sister company Spectrum HoloByte.
It erupted one of the longest and most complicated legal battles in videogame history, with several parties bickering over ownership of the game.
In the meantime, a surely perturbed Pajitnov designed the spin-off sequel Welltris in 1989, which proved a moderate success on home computer platforms, including the Amiga and Atari ST. Meanwhile, Tetris was on its way to becoming the Best-selling Game Boy game, with global sales of 30.26 million.
Even with global domination, it wasn’t until 1996, with the creation of the official The Tetris Company that Pajitnov finally begun to see royalties for his original genre-defining release.
Today the Tetris bandwagon is still rampant. It currently holds the extremely impressive record for Most variants of a videogame, with an astonishing 215 Tetris versions officially recognised by The Tetris Company as of May 2015. This includes everything from iPod Tetris to Pokemon Shock Tetris, all games with unique gameplay twists and themes.
Impressively, there is also a Tetris version on virtually every format and computer system ever to have seen the light of day since 1984, making it the Most ported videogame.
Tetris’ profound power can be further illustrated in the other array of records that it either holds or has inspired. In 2014, gadget fan Marc Kerger celebrated the game’s 30th anniversary by designing a playable t-shirt of the game, which used an Arduino Uno microcontroller embedded into the apparel. It’s the First playable videogame on an item of clothing.
The Italian programmer Federico Poloni created the Most difficult version of Tetris, which replaced the usual random distribution of Tetris pieces with an algorithim that selects the worst possible piece. He called his unforgiving version “Bastet”.
Tetris also holds the distinction of being the First videogame in space, with Russian cosmonaut Aleksandr Serebrov having taken a copy along with his Game Boy for his mission into space on 1 July 1993. The game was later auctioned off in Bonham’s 2011 Space History sale for $1,220.
And how’s this for a further nugget of random trivial: Apple I inventor Steve “Woz” Wozniak is currently the fourth highest scorer on the Game Boy version of Tetris, scoring 507,110 points (67.73% completion), as verified by high-score adjudicators Twin Galaxies as of 26 July 1990.
While Tetris may have set the record for Longest-running puzzle videogame series back in 1989, as of 27 July 2015, that record now stands at a staggering 31 years.
With plenty more Tetris iterations creeping out year on year, it’s unthinkable that the rollercoaster – or the Tetris conveyor – will ever stop, at least for as long as videogaming remains a significant force in this world. Expect this record to be one that lasts the test of time!