‘Tetris’ Producer Describes What Makes a Game Immortal

3 December, 2011 at 07:00 | Posted in Body & Mind, Funny things :-), Science | Leave a comment
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Why ‘Tetris’ is selling at historic levels, three decades after its release

By Joshua Philipp
Epoch Times Staff

Scientists are taking a new look at “Tetris.” A recent study from Oxford University examined how this basic geometry puzzle can relieve stress and prevent flashbacks in trauma victims.

Game developers are also studying “Tetris,” trying to determine how a game based on interlocking shapes can generate record-level sales nearly three decades after its initial release. “Tetris” has sold 130 million copies on mobile phones, and close to 15 million people play it every day on Facebook.

“The number one reason people say they play ‘Tetris’ is to relax. I think that this has something to do with it—you’re able to take your mind off of whatever you want to take your mind off of, and just enjoy being for a while,” said Henk Rogers, game developer and publisher who introduced “Tetris” to the world.

In the 1990s, “Tetris” was seen as just another choice in a fast growing field of video games. But “it’s not showing any sign of slowing down,” Rogers said. “We’re selling more copies of ‘Tetris’ today on mobile phones than we have in history. ‘Tetris’ is now one of the fastest rising social games.”

“’Tetris’ has crossed the line of being a game, and is starting to become a sport, or a lifestyle,” he said.

Typically, games only last a few months. A sought-after release initially makes a big splash, and people rush to buy it. But the spotlight eventually fades on nearly every big game when something new comes around. “It’s like a fad,” Rogers said. But it’s different with “Tetris,” a game that has shown real longevity and that Rogers puts in the same category as baseball or golf.

“‘Tetris’ is still here, and it’s close to its original form. I’d say it has become a virtual sport,” he said.

Rogers discovered “Tetris” while working as a publisher in Japan. His job was to travel the world looking for games that would do well in the Japanese market and negotiate distribution rights.

When Rogers first stumbled upon “Tetris” at the 1988 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, he was an avid Go player. He noticed that the play of interlocking pieces found in “Tetris” shared an attractive simplicity to the ancient Far East Asian board game. “If you look at Go and you don’t know anything about it, it looks like black and white stones, and you think where’s the fun in that? But if you play Go, it’s a deep, deep game. It’s the same thing with ‘Tetris,’” Rogers said.

“Basically, I fell in love with the game at the show,” he said.

Setting Tetris Free

After many sleepless nights, Rogers managed to get Tetris published on the PC and the 8-bit Nintendo for the Christmas of 1988.

After its initial release, Rogers wanted to take “Tetris” a step further—a version for Gameboy—but this became a tougher job than he imagined.

In 1989, Rogers traveled to the Soviet-era Moscow to meet “Tetris” developer Alexey Pajitnov. Rogers discovered that there was no such thing as intellectual property in the Soviet Union and that Pajitnov wouldn’t see a penny for his work. “Tetris,” he was told, belonged to the people, and the money would go to the regime.

“I could have just paid the Soviet Union, and got ‘Tetris,’ and that would have been the end of it. But I felt, and I still feel this way, that [Pajitnov] made the game. He deserves something,” Rogers said.

Rogers began taking regular trips to Moscow. He and Pajitnov became close friends, and they devised a plan to get Pajitnov out of the country. “At the time, there were a lot of people trying to get out of the Soviet Union,” Rogers said. “You could get a permit to leave the Soviet Union, but if they knew [you were trying to escape], they wouldn’t allow you to leave—sort of like North Korea. You had to defect.”

“So I brought him to the States—he and his family—and he stayed. That’s how it worked out. I didn’t have to do that, but it was the right thing to do,” he said.

Perfecting Tetris

Under Rogers’ supervision, work on “Tetris” never ends. Rogers knows games. He developed the first role-playing game in Japan, “The Black Onyx,” that is credited with inspiring several iconic examples from the genre, including the “Final Fantasy” series. He is currently working on a massive multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG).

One of the first problems to fix was playability. Rogers noticed that the original “Tetris” wasn’t balanced very well. It started too slow for most players, and experienced players had to trudge through the first few levels before it became interesting. Rogers compared it to getting in a racecar and driving 10 mph for two laps, then 20 mph for two laps, until finally reaching a fun speed.

“People today want to jump straight into NASCAR, so to speak, and they drive laps at whatever their ability is,” he said.

Improvements still haven’t let up. Rogers founded Hawaii-based Blue Planet Software that works daily on perfecting “Tetris” while making sure it doesn’t deviate too far from its roots. “We look at what’s the part that’s good, what do people like to do, what is it people don’t like about it, and we fix it,” he said.

“I’ve been fixing ‘Tetris’ ever since,” he said, but doing this is difficult since they need to ensure “Tetris” is still appealing for the professionals, while also making it more playable for new markets.

Recent developments involve bringing “Tetris” to new media. Rogers said with touch screens, they’re working on a version where players “basically point to where you want the piece to land, and the game takes part in moving it there.” But social media is a key focus at the moment.

There is now a six-player competitive social media version of the game, but Rogers wants to create a collaborative version where players can work together and spend time with their friends. “The concept of giving and receiving those little gifts from all of your friends is what Facebook is all about,” he said. “It’s giving and sharing, and keeping in contact. I think that’s where it’s going.”

via ‘Tetris’ Producer Describes What Makes a Game Immortal | Technology | Technology | Epoch Times

Related Articles: Tetris Found to Reduce Traumatic Flashbacks, Study Says

From Wikipedia: Tetris (In Russian: Тет́рис) is a puzzle video game originally designed and programmed by Alexey Pajitnov in the Soviet Union. […] He derived its name from the Greek numerical prefix tetra- (all of the game’s pieces contain four segments) and tennis, Pajitnov’s favorite sport.

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