The legendary Tetris turns 30today – a historic milestone in video game history. It’s stacked up many accolades during this time: Best Game Ever awards, the bestselling video game in history, global iconic status, and even research into its potential cognitive benefits.

What many people will remember best, however, is an addictive little game which achieved genius through simplicity. The perpetual stream of falling blocks can terrify, frustrate, and exhilarate in equal measure. As a video game it’s pretty much perfect.

Its 30th birthday isn’t going unnoticed – there’s an international celebration marking the event. The game’s creator, Alexey Pajitnov, has encouraged fan participation; there will be global Tetris parties (wherever you are in the world you can check for a local meet up point), and Pajitnov’s The Tetris Company has prizes and awards up for grabs.

It’s a special day for a very special game, and we honor the occasion with a look at three inspirational decades.

Tetris Over The Decades

tetris_blocksAlexey Pajitnov designed the original on an Electronika 60 (a computer made in the Soviet Union). It was primitive stuff from the pioneering days of video games, with its Atari 2600 styled graphics and single screen of play. A version was made for the IBM PC, leading to a rapid spread across Moscow as its popularity soared.

An immediate phenomenon, it had made its way to Europe and America circa 1986/’87. International businesses took interest, and it was soon available on the Commodore 64 courtesy of Andromeda. Mass commercial appeal beckoned, but in the rush copyright issues became confused and unlicensed versions were made (leading to the fraught history we detailed last week).

Atari released an arcade version in 1988 with a two-player mode – a distinctive step forward. Through their side-company Tengen, a NES edition was produced to spar with Nintendo’s. The Japanese company eventually sealed the official rights in 1989, allowing Tetris to enjoy its first stable commercial run.

tetris_screenWith its simplistic graphics and catchy music, the Game Boy edition remains a timeless classic (it’s also believed to be creator Pajitnov’s favourite) and proved a smash hit. Eager to build on its success, Nintendo experimented; a colourised version, Tetris DX, was released on the Game Boy Color in 1998. Numerous variations for the SNES and Game Boy were also released throughout the 1990s, such as Tetris 2, Tetris Attack, Tetris Blast, and Tetris Plus (which was ported to the PlaySation and Sega Saturn). Less successful was a bizarre 1996 version on Nintendo’s flawed Virtual Boy. 3D Tetris attempted to take things into the third dimension. It failed, but as a concept it would be reworked over the following years.

In 1996 Pajitnov and friend Henk Rogers formed The Tetris Company following the expiration of Nintendo’s 1989 contract. With the Russian finally in control of his creation, he was able to offer it to developers with new ideas. A stream of adaptations followed.

tetrisphereWhilst the game is no longer associated solely with Nintendo, the Japanese company were undeterred and continued to support it. Several innovative titles appeared during the N64 era. Tetrisphere (pictured above) is an underrated edition, The New Tetris introduced a four player mode, and the intriguing Bio Tetris brought in new technology. It came packaged with a “bio sensor”, which attached to a player’s ear and measured their heart rate. The game would speed up or down according to a user’s pulse. Despite strong reviews, it didn’t make it out of Japan.

From 1999 onwards Tetris was ported to SEGA’s Dreamcast, Sony’s PlayStation, Microsoft’s Xbox 360, and Nintendo’s Wii. Despite this, it wasn’t until the smartphone era that Tetris received a remarkable new run. Realising the game’s potential for this market, EA, SEGA, and Hudson Soft busied themselves with new versions from 2006 onwards. As a result of their efforts, Tetris apps are now ubiquitous with iOS, Android, BlackBerry, and Windows Phones. Many of these adaptations took to Facebook, bringing the game to the attention of a new generation.

With its accessibility boosted, millions more were falling in love with the game. New editions to the library, such as Tetris Blitz and Puyo Puyo Tetris, have been hugely popular, driving Tetris towards unprecedented success. These editions are based around pulse racing two minute sessions, high score runs, and multiplayer online play.

touchscreen_tetrisNaturally, the touch screen features (as seen in EA’s version above) on many modern mobile phones have also been utilised into the game. Facebook has also allowed the game to enter the social era, with Tetris Battle, Tetris Friends, and Tetris Stars promoting online interaction between users. It’s been a highly effective way to spread the word amongst Facebook’s billion strong users.

In the meantime, the game has continued to find success on the PlayStation 3 and Vita, Nintendo’s DSi, 3DS, and Wii U, and the PC. That’s a lot of Tetris, and with its seemingly limitless appeal we can expect much more from this universally appealing game.

Falling Blocks Into The Future

tetris_blocksFinding details on how many copies Tetris has sold is difficult as sources vary dramatically. Many suggest 150+ million (covering all versions), yet this appears to have been taken from obsolete statistics. A March 2014 press release, from a new business deal for The Tetris Company, states 425 million digital copies alone have been sold, with a billion games played each month. Add in the 30 million original Game Boy sales, along with NES, SNES, PlayStation, Xbox 360, and SEGA sales, and the figure surely utterly dwarves other bestselling games.

It’s a success story which won’t end soon. Tetris will be part of Next Generation gaming; The Tetris Company confirmed a deal in March 2014 which will bring the puzzler to the Xbox One and PS4. SoMa Play and Ubisoft will be behind this, and it’s all part of the 30th anniversary celebrations. Ubisoft’s Tony Key stated the deal will, “introduce new generations to what is inarguably the quintessential puzzle game.” World Domination awaits.

The real marvel here is creator Alexey Pajitnov, who has crafted a perfect game which adapts instantly to new technology. Even in this graphics obsessed era of movie inspired, open world games, Tetris remains an established force unaffected by ever changing gaming demands. It will no doubt continue to flourish over the coming decades – we have no complaints. Happy 30th, Tetris!

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