While working at the Computer Center of the Moscow Academy of Science, Soviet Mathematician Alexey Pajitnov created a simple game that rocked the gaming world like few video games before it: Tetris. The immediate and continuing popularity of Tetris place it among the ranks of such widely-known games as Space Invaders, Pac-Man, and Donkey Kong. Like most versions of Tetris, Atari's 1988 arcade version of the game found instant success.
The history of Tetris is mired in Soviet-era dealings that spun a complex web of licensing rights which included many of the major video game corporations of the 1980s. When in 1988, Robert Stein, president of the software company Andromeda, discovered the game he immediately saw its potential. After making an agreement with Pajitnov for rights to the game, Stein sold these rights to Mirrorsoft in Europe and Spectrum Holobyte in America, who both released versions of Tetris in January of 1988. Mirrorsoft sold their Tetris rights to Atari, and Atari subsequently sold their Japanese coin-op rights to Sega Enterprise and Japanese console and PC rights to Henk Rogers, an entrepreneur with ties to Nintendo. However, all of these deals were invalid because of the original Stein-Pajitnov deal; in Soviet Russia the rights to a game were owned by the state and not the game designer. Meanwhile, Rogers traveled to Russia in hopes of securing the rights to a handheld version of Tetris. He ended up getting more than he bargained for: worldwide home video game rights to Tetris. After the success of their arcade version of Tetris and in the chaos of conflicting licensing agreements, the Atari subsidiary Tengen released a cartridge version of Tetris for the Nintendo Entertainment System. Amidst great success, Atari was forced to recall their version shortly after its release. Stein's agreement with the Soviets had proven indispensable for Nintendo.
Like many other iconic games, Tetris is amazingly simple. As two-dimensional geometric shapes- "tetrominoes"- fall from the top of the screen, players must rotate and arrange the blocks before they land. The objective of the game is to arrange the block into unbroken lines. A row is cleared from the screen when it fills the width of the screen without gaps. Clearing more than one line at a time earns players extra points. As the game progresses, the blocks fall progressively faster. The game ends when the blocks fill the entire screen.
Atari's coin-op version of Tetris was a hit in the arcades. Ed Logg- of Centipede, Gauntlet, and Asteroids fame- not only created the code for the Tengen cartridge version of Tetris, he also converted the code to be used for the arcade game. While still reaping profits from the arcade game, Atari waited to release the cartridge. Despite its early departure, the Tengen produced cartridge version of the game was applauded for its similarity to the arcade version.
Within all the legal battles, the game's original designer- Pajitnov- was all but forgotten. Pajitnov did not receive royalties for his game until he formed the Tetris Company, with Henk Rogers, in 1996. The Tetris Company now controls all rights to the game. Without Pajitnov we would not have the wonderfully addictive game of Tetris. The game remains one of the most popular video games of all time. Over 40 million cartridges of Tetris have been sold for Nintendo's Game Boy. As the most ported video game, it can be found on almost every gaming system of the past twenty years. The game's continuing appeal is evident in its popularity on phones and the internet. Tetris is a truly timeless video game.