Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Global Gaming Spotlight: Tetris (Russia)

With each post in this mini-feature, I highlight a game from a different country around the world. Keep in mind these aren't necessarily the best or most popular games from each nation, but simply a fitting representative.

Russia (or previously, the Soviet Union) hasn't been a huge player in the games industry. Even the highest-profile game set in Russia in recent years, Metro 2033, was made by a Ukrainian studio. But we can't forget that perhaps the most important video game of all time was made by a Soviet computer engineer.

Tetris - Alexey Pajitnov, 1984

Tetris has a troubled history. Private enterprise was discouraged in the USSR, so when Soviet Academy of Sciences engineer Alexey Pajitnov designed his first Tetris prototype in 1984, he didn't see any profits at all for years. The game was pirated and spread around Moscow and throughout Eastern Europe, where it was discovered by a British software house.

When they had trouble securing the rights to the game, the British company simply released Tetris on their own. Pajitnov himself didn't see any royalties for Tetris until he moved to the United States in the '90s and founded The Tetris Company.

Arguably the most influential version of the game was Tetris for Nintendo's new handheld system, the Game Boy. It was a pack-in title for the system when it launched in 1989. While every Nintendo console up to that point had launched with a Mario game, they switched it up with the Game Boy. It was a simple, pick-up-and-play title that people could enjoy for short periods of time--perfect for a portable system.

Because of its simplicity and its "easy to learn, difficult to master" formula, Tetris on the Game Boy was also one of the first big casual gaming successes. It brought in a lot of people daunted by gaming up to that point. And it took a fair amount of coercing from the game's publisher Henk Rogers to convince Nintendo to include Tetris with the Game Boy instead of Super Mario Land. Rogers is quoted as telling Nintendo of America that if they wanted to sell the Game Boy to little boys, package it with Mario, but if they wanted to sell it to everyone else, they should package it with Tetris. Nintendo went with the latter.

Tetris was an introduction to video games for millions of people. And seeing that it's currently available on every single console and platform, from the Xbox 360 to old-fashioned cell phones, it's clear Pajitnov's classic puzzle formula remains relevant to this day.

The Global Gaming Spotlight so far:

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