Saturday, June 6, 2009

Tetris: Invented in Russia (This Time, Chekov's Right)

Tetris is 25 years old today. Because the game is so much a part of American (and global) culture, this post will have more quotes/excerpts and links than most.

One more thing: That cryptic "Chekov" reference gets explained, near the end of this post.

Tetris: Lots of Blocks, Lots of History

Tetris
The company's own website

"Celebrating 25 Years of the Tetris Effect"

"Play Tetris Now!"

(The "Play Tetris Now!" link leads you to an opportunity to "Play a two minute free-for-all against five opponents!" Considering my game-playing skills (June 1, 2009), I passed. Looks like fun, though.)

Tetris: A Quarter-Century of Falling Blocks

"25 Years Later: Tetris still permeating game society"
WMBF (June 5, 2009)

"The game of falling puzzle pieces is celebrating a pretty impressive milestone. Fans may remember it as one of the first games on home entertainment systems, Gameboys, and now cell phones. But it has even older and harder to find roots.

"It's a cult classic that was part of an era. It's Tetris and it's turning 25. "It's falling blocks. You have to line them up. That's how you complete each row," said David Ford, owner and operator of Charleston Game Room. "It just didn't stick very long...."

"...According to Ford, so many games were released in such a short time span that eventually the quality was lacking. By the time Japan introduced a merciless showering of odd-shaped box thingies to be puzzled together, gamers were in a state of overload...."

"Harder to Find Roots?" Doesn't Everybody Know it Was Invented in Russia?

"Happy Birthday to the Greatest Game Ever - Tetris Turns 25"
Wired GeekDad (June 4, 2009)

"This month, Tetris turns 25. Let's ponder that thought for a moment. That means back in 1984 the game was created by Alexey Pajitnov while he was working at the Moscow Academy of Sciences. The cold war ended right after that. Could Tetris have meant that much to the world? Well, I'm not sure about that coincidence, but it sure meant a ton to the lot of us. I think I speak for every geek, mild gamer and well, pretty much everyone else when I say that Tetris is the greatest game ever created. So after 25 years of playing Tetris we have to take a moment to reflect on one of man's greatest gaming accomplishments.

"First, let's talk history. As we all know, a young Alexey Pajitnov created the game while working for the Moscow Academy of Sciences. If you didn't know that, I mentioned it in the previous paragraph. The rights to the game were owned at that time by the Motherland Russia herself, as it was created under a communist state...." [emphasis mine]

"Tetris Maker Looks Back at 25 Years of Falling Blocks"
PC World (June 4, 2009)

"Tetris -- possibly the most popular casual computer game of all time -- celebrates its 25th anniversary on June 6th. Its creator, Alexey Pajitnov, looked back at the phenomenon he created at this week's E3 Expo in Los Angeles...."

"...In the 1980s, Pajitnov was a mathematician specializing in AI research at a Russian university. As a hobby, he relaxed by creating games. He said that couldn't have imagined [!] the international phenomenon it would become when he designed Tetris in 1984.

"Most gamers were introduced to Tetris when it was bundled with the first Nintendo Game Boy or in the Microsoft Entertainment Pack for Windows. Pajintov's business partner, Henk Rogers, laughingly quotes a friend who commented on Pajitnov's eventual move to the U.S.: 'He went from one evil empire to another (Microsoft).'..."

"...Imitation is the sincerest (and most lucrative) form of flattery

"Tetris has also been the victim of both piracy and imitation that too often has crossed the line to outright plagiarism. From the get-go, there were significant licensing issues related to Tetris, as Intellectual Property (IP) was very hard to defend in the Soviet Union.

"By 1996, Pajitnov and Rogers entered into a partnership to manage and license the game -- The Tetris Company. They now own the full rights to the game, and will vigorously defend it against interlopers who are engaged in outright Tetris-related fraud or plagiarism...." [emphasis mine]

Invented in Russia? I remember Chekov

"Interview with Henk Rogers, video game visionary, on saving the planet"
VentureBeat (April 22, 2008)

"Henk Rogers is an entrepreneur who knows how to hustle. You can thank him as the man who introduced Tetris to the Western hemisphere...."

"...In 1988, he saw a video game called 'Tetris' at a Las Vegas trade show. He discovered it was being distributed under a master license which wasn't being honored....His success in securing the rights to Tetris helped Nintendo beat Atari in the console wars. At the same time, Rogers helped the game's Russian inventor, Alexey Pajitnov, move to the United States. In 1996, the rights for Tetris reverted to Pajitnov. Rogers moved from Japan to Hawaii, where he founded Blue Planet Software to manage the intellectual property rights for Tetris. He also founded Blue Lava Wireless in 2002 to develop mobile gaming software. In 2005, he scored big as he sold Blue Lava and the Tetris rights to Jamdat for $137 million. (Jamdat has since been acquired by Electronic Arts.)..."
The VentureBeat article helped me understand why WMBF's reporter was cautious about giving Alexey Pajitnov credit for inventing Tetris. I remember the mid-eighties, when Tetris and tetroid games started making the rounds, and some of the discussions over who developed in and who ripped off what from whom.

After a while, word got around that Tetris had been invented in Russia. And, it looks like it was.

Still, a history of the rights - real and pirated - to Tetris are such a tangled mess, that I can't blame a reporter for not trying to sort it all out - and still make deadline.

Tetris, Chekov, and Quadrotriticale

I told you I'd get back to Chekov.

I was born in the Truman administration, so I've seen a change here and there in American - and global - cultures. There was a period when it seemed that everything was invented in Russia: according to one circle of acquaintances. Other people were equally convinced that everything was invented in America, so is sort of evened out.

The original "Star Trek" series picked up on that cultural oddity form time to time, giving Ensign Chekov some memorable lines. One of my favorites is from "The Trouble With Tribbles." The scene is Station K7's bar:
KIRK: (shows Chekov the packet of wheat) Mister Chekov, what do you make of this?
CHEKOV: Oh, quadrotriticale. I've read about this, but I've never seen any before.
KIRK: Does everybody know about this wheat but me?
CHEKOV: Not everyone, Captain. It's a Russian invention.
"The Trouble With Tribbles" (original air date December 29, 1967) The Star Trek Transcripts
In the case of Tetris, it looks like the inventor really is from Russia, and developed this enduringly popular game while living in his homeland. It's nice to see a case where an inventor, author, or artist, gets rewarded - or at least recognized - for his or her work.

1 comment:

lixue said...

I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


Margaret

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