Interview with Alexey Pajitnov for Scene World Magazine

Interview with Alexey Pajitnov for Scene World Magazine


Today we are talking to a very famous
guy again. And the special thing about him is compared to other people
that we’ve talked to, just one virtue to a man despite what he’s doing and
this is his work Tetris. So we are talking today to Alexey Pajitnov.
Hello. Hello. Nice to have you here, now. So would
you describe a bit about who you are? Because most people just know from
the credits page of Tetris and nothing else. Well, it’s true that Tetris is the most well-known
of my games. I used to be a programmer and a software researcher. My work was to program
the games and Tetris was one of my games, almost 30 years ago. That was the time when
I created it and that after that I became kind of a game designer and I worked on games
for almost 30 years already. And I published about 12 other titles but Tetris still is
the most well known. If I remember correctly, you started
Tetris in 1984. I worked that time in the computer center
of the Academy of Science of the USSR. That was that country called USSR at that time,
the Soviet Union. So what was the reason actually to
start making a game? I mean, Russia was not really known for games at
that time. And Tetris is actually the game that is connected to Russia. Well, all my life I liked all kind of puzzles
and riddles and all the mathematical kinds of amusement stuff. I started loving this
stuff when I was a school boy and that’s why I picked my career in mathematics. So I graduated
in Moscow Institute of Aviation as an applied mathematician and programmer. And I started
working at the computer center as a researcher, so my childhood habit kind of grew up into
my profession. But I still get very addicted to all kind of small amusements, riddles,
puzzles, and other stuff. So my job at the computer center was related
to many different hardware of that time. So that’s why I need to check hardware which
is suitable for tasks. And the best way to do several hardware checks is to write a small
program around it and see how it works. And the game is a very good kind of task for that,
it suits very well for that stuff. So I use this excuse to amuse myself with my favorite
games and and I wrote several games there. And that is why it was one of them. So it was actually not meant to be a
game per se but it was a test program to see if the hardware works? It was an excuse actually, but the main reason
I wrote Tetris and some other games was just for fun. You talked about your love for
puzzles, so what kind of puzzle is the Tetris game based on? So Tetris started in a very strange way, a
very well known puzzle called Pentomino. Those are all different shapes which could make
out five squares, such as an x piece or a t piece, and you kind of play with them. So
you could create different shapes out of them and play with them and such small puzzles,
but the main puzzle is to put it back in the box. And people spent maybe three, four hours
before they figured out how to do it, it’s really a hard task to do it. And I was in love with this puzzle since I
was a boy and one day I though that it was a very good thing to create a board game for
two players using this set of pieces. Maybe people could put the pieces in turns and who
couldn’t put the last pieces loses, or something like that. I didn’t think about all the rules
very carefully, I just start programming this stuff. But I see you didn’t use all figures, you
just use some of them. Yeah, exactly. So basically I was coding on
an Electronika 60. It was a Russian clone of PDP-11 machines. Machines in ’84 didn’t
have any graphics on this machine, so in order to use the machine, we use so-called monitors.
It was a kind of a TV set which was programmed to show just alphanumeric symbols so I have
just 24 strings, and 80 symbols in each string. And that was the only visual device at my
disposal at that time. So you actually used a character set. Exactly. So I needed to use symbols to create
this geometrical shape in order create the small square. I used the square brackets together
in the string in the line to make it look like a square. So I started programming this
stuff. It wasn’t very difficult but it was kind of a small challenge to arrange all the
graphics on the alphanumeric screen, you know. So I start put together all the procedures
to choose the piece, to put it on some kind of field, to flip it, to rotate it, and so
on. And when I wrote the rotation procedure to rotate it 90 degrees, it looked so funny
when I pushed the button and then just click, click, click and it rotated. So I loved it very much and at this time the
idea of a real time game came to me. So I decided, where should I place it, maybe they
will just float and I will operate them while kind of they go to their location. So that
was the idea when Tetris was born. But you see, there are many pieces, 12 different pieces
in Pentomino, and that was too much for me, because I realized that it will be very hard
to remember and to operate with such a big variety of pieces. So I decide that for a
real time game it is a good reason to kind of shrivel the set. And if we try to take the pieces, all the
shapes made out of not five but four squares, it will be a very nice set of Tetraminoes.
Penta means five, tetra means four in Greek. For some reason, mathematicians like to give
Greek names to their objects, you know. Sir, another problem would be
actually if you were including all pieces that you wouldn’t be able to
make a line in the game. Yeah, so about the line, that’s another story.
I didn’t think about the line this time, I was still in my set stuff. So well, with Tetraminoes,
if you don’t flip them, there are seven different shapes which are very famous now. Everybody
knows them. Yeah, so I decided that seven is a very good magic number, I love it, and
they will stay with it. Then I keep programming this stuff and all of a sudden I see on the
screen my pieces which I could kind of move left and right, left and right and I could
rotate them and I could place them. But all of a sudden, all the screen is filled
up and I don’t know that in any minute there’s not enough space to really play the game,
you know. And I didn’t know what to do to make a very deep scroll, I tried it but it
didn’t work because you need to memorize something and intensive use of memory is not good for
games. Then I noticed that if you fill up entire line, it’s kind of dead. You can’t
do anything with it, so it just occupies the place of the screen. So why don’t I just get
rid of them and have more space to play. That was the reason for line collapsing. Interesting. So you actually tried to
make it scroll like a pinball game or something. Yeah, yeah but it didn’t work. Somehow I didn’t
like how it worked, so I decided to take away the lines and give a score for it. So actually the way you made the game
play was to make things easier, this is how it came to the game play
actually. To think about how could it do it in the narrow space. Yeah, I realized that board game could be
very complicated. It could have very complicated rules because you have endless time, you’re
just killing time seating and working on the board game or board puzzles. That’s the reason
but in the real time game, everything should be as simple as possible. At least it seems
simpler on the paper version, you know. Great. How did it start to spread and
become famous? Well, you know, that time we didn’t have any
serious software industry in that country. And the only way to distribute software was
just copying so you wrote the program, you give it to your friends. A friend copies it
to his friend and so on. So we didn’t know any other way to do it. Many computers weren’t available for sale.
Computers were only in offices, so basically it was not possible to buy any software. Its
size in category as a software product did not exist there are all the programs they
did have were exchanged. So when my Tetris started working, I added the score and I added
small decorations. It’s amazing but at that time, a very serious concern of mine was that
people would blame me for giving them the wrong pieces because I felt that I was using
the wrong pieces. But I knew that it was absolutely random,
so that’s why I decorated the screen with some small statistical stuff so I added the
pieces and added how many times a certain piece would appear, so nobody would blame
me for never giving the sticks. So when I added all those decorations, finally
I decided that I’m done with this game and I just copied it to my friends. So the game
just went around like wildfire. So everywhere when the Electronika 60 or compatible computer
was, Tetris was around as we;;. So I thought that it was probably a good game and I saw
the other games and I could compare and I felt that Tetris isup there with other games
like Pacman other famous game at the time. And then I decided that it’s time to kind
of to convert it to PC. But at that time, I didn’t have a PC at my disposal and I didn’t
work on PC, I didn’t know its processor, I didn’t know the operating system, nothing.
So in order to convert the game, I needed some help and that was Vadim Gerasimov, who
helped me convert Tetris to PC. That’s an interesting story too. He was a
16 year old school boy at that time. And he came to the summer practice to the computer
center and he was an absolute genius with programming. He immediately got everything
about the operating system, he knew every bit of it and solid academical people came
to him with questions. And his mentor who was my friend, who introduced us to each other
and recommended him to me to help with the specifics of PC. And we started working and I was really impressed
with his ability in his very first task because at that time the PC and my computer worked
totally different. They have nothing in common, literally nothing. The floppy disk didn’t
read, they had different formats. And I had no idea how I could convert my program which
was purchased solid already into the computer. And somehow he managed in a couple of days
just to be able to read my floppy disk on PC and get all my Pascal language text into
PC. And that was very impressive because I planned to kind of retype it again. But he
didn’t like that, you know. So we worked together, Pascal was kind of
a universal language so it wasn’t too hard to start running the program. So in a couple
of days it started working on the PC as my very original alphanumeric kind of version.
But there were several serious technical issues. My game was pretty weak for that time. And
the speed was kind of close to the limit of the computer’s ability. And computers were
very different that time, so basically if I wanted the game to be a standard for everybody,
I needed to take care of real timing exposing and real time of the reaction and the speed
of the movement and everything. At that time it was very new task and even
now the latency is kind of a problem for the games. But I faced this latency with the nature
and speed of the processor of that time and the real speed of the imaging on the screen.
So we needed to calibrate the computer processor, we needed to setup the very current speed
which I didn’t need to do in my first version. But we did very current work on PC as well. So this is just one typical example, there
were several other similar programs, a chipset was very different so we needed to have consistent
images on every computer. We maybe worked about six months on this PC version. Obviously
it was in our spare time. We did our main job all the time but occasionally we came
back and just did it. The interesting thing is, what we
learned now is that it’s not unfair from the amount of each figure.
Because when you ask players about Tetris, they will always wish for
that long bar to come up, so you can finally make a row. Many players make
a vertical space and they are waiting for the long I symbol and it never
comes, like, “Damn, it never comes!” So you actually formally addressed it
to make sure that it’s always fair. Absolutely. Well, I can say that we planned
it, but we worked on the game and a game is a program and we want our program to be perfect
and make sure it works everywhere. So that was the moment of professional honor, if you
will. So sometimes someone would come and say that the game wouldn’t work on some kind
of very strange video controller, so we needed to be sure that we got familiar with that
kind kind of controller and make it work. So basically we did this job and after we
released, again we gave it up. We copied to our friends at some point when we felt the
version was good. And then it started spreading all over the world. So very soon we started
getting some kind of rumors and feedback from eastern European countries that Tetris was
very popular there and after that from the west as well. And at one moment we got a proposal to license
for selling from Robert Stein from Andromeda software. And that was the beginning of the
life of Tetris. How did that start actually? How did
you get the offer? When we put our PC version together we reported
that it was done and one day, the
computer center received a fax from Robert Stein proposing the licensing of the game.
And then I started my really, really hard work to a find a way to license it. Because
you know, that was the time of the Soviet Union and the relationship between the Russians
and the rest of the world was under serious control. So everything was prohibited, even my computer
center had no right to trade anything. We needed to use special agencies who actually
develop all the contracts and relationships with foreign countries. So I needed to find
these agencies and I spent about three years trying to do it. Finally I found this agency
who agreed to help us and they were very busy as well so that it was a very low priority
task. So it took a good four years before the very
first agreement was ever drafted. If I remember correctly, the story
goes that there was struggle on how to do it with the licensing, maybe
just selling it from the government. And I think you said you decided to
not fight for it. Actually ,yes. Everybody asked me why I didn’t
do it individually. It was a kind of very gray area from a legal standpoint because
some other rights exist. But generally I realized that either I spend the rest of my life fighting
for my rights, or I become a very good author who would publish games, and I had my other
games in mind which I had written already. And I decided that it’s better to have people
co-operate with me rather than fight me. That’s why I signed off my rights for Tetris to my
computer center for 10 years. The computer center helped me and finally we got the game
published and that’s what people remember now. What was the role of Stein at this
point? Stein was the first professional agent in
the game industry who saw and appreciated the game. He was of Hungarian origin and he
lived in London where he had his company. But he had old connections in Hungary, some
programmers there working for him. And one day he came to Budapest and he saw Tetris.
He loved the game and decided that it good to publish. He contacted us and after a while
he finally got the license for PC. So actually, it came from Russia to
Europe through Hungary. Well, Hungary, Bulgaria, and Poland at the
same time. It just got there by who knows how, just through copies. Calling friends like, “Hey, I’ve got
a game for you from Russia. Should I copy the disk and send it to you or
something?” Yeah, that’s what people did that time, absolutely.
It was PC only at the beginning and PC was a kind of expensive machine, and I don’t think
it was in homes, mainly professionals used it at that time. So you mean it was more like an
office game at work or something? A lunch break time-killer? Absolutely, yeah. The first version which
was published all had a boss key. You know, the key you push and your screen is hidden
under some kind of strange spreadsheet summon. You really put a lot of effort into
game play, converting it, and also made sure that if the boss was behind
somebody while at work… Yeah, I thought of it, but that wasn’t my
stuff. So the first publisher made it, not myself. Ah, okay. It was a feature he added.
Did you plan it like that and did you know at this time that you would
actually become famous and make some money out of it? If you had given the
rights to government for 10 years but you didn’t know what would happen
after? Well, nobody thought about the game for such
a long time at that time but I had some hopes. I didn’t understand why the game should die.
Computers changed dramatically but people’s minds don’t, you know. So why people enjoyed
the game today and won’t enjoy it tomorrow wasn’t clear for me. So 10 years seems like
an endless time. And everybody was happy with it so that’s how it worked. Did you actually know back then that
it would be loved by all ages, young and old? Well, you never know anything about the future,
you know. I had some expectation that probably later it would still be alive. But I didn’t
expect the game to live for that long, that’s true. How did transformation from Stein to
Henk Rogers happen? Who approached you? Basically, when the game was published on
PC first, everybody wanted it to be spread on the other platforms. And many people started
hunting for it and came for us for the rights to the other platforms, including Stein but
he didn’t do his job very well so our agency wasn’t happy with him. He didn’t pay in time
and such. So basically we decided to look for other publishers for the other platforms.
And when Henk came and talked to the agency, kind of everybody loved him as a publisher
because he was a publisher of the PC version in Japan. He put Tetris on every Japanese
computer. He sub-licensed the rights from Stein and
did it. And then he came to purchase handheld rights, he knew about Game Boy that was close
to appear and he really wanted the right for the Game Boy. But that time he published the
game on video platform by mistake because there was a very big confusion about video
rights at the time. And he purchased the right which we didn’t give, and we need to resolve
this confusion. And we successfully resolved it at some time and Nintendo came and purchased
the video rights. That was all of the detective story about Tetris rights in the end of the
80s and beginning of the 90s. This was described in the book of David Sheff called “Game Over”. (At this point, Nafcom starts playing a version
of Tetris, showing off his mad skills to Alexey Pajitnov -ed) What I have here is the NES version
of Tetris. It came at
the same time as the Game Boy version. Oh yeah, BPS was the publisher, right? Oh,
it’s the Nintendo version, I got it. Sometimes I confuse NES with NEC. NEC was the main PC
platform in Japan at that time. Ah no, it was Famicom in Japan
actually. Yeah, Famicom in Japan and NEC in 8-bit. Yes, 8-bit exactly. So what we have
here is the three-in-one cartridge that actually came with the NES back
then, in Germany. Yeah, and why is my name misspelled? Or spelled
in Russian way? Yeah, and that’s one of the classic
musics. That’s Tchaikovsky. you used 12 songs, right? I didn’t, my publisher did. Yes because new versions didn’t have
music. And you see by my tradition, they have statistics
on the screen to be clear. That long piece is not special, it’s as frequent as the other
one. So this is actually very close to the
original batch, right? Yes, it’s very close and they showed me the
version, making sure that it’s close and I kind of approved it, yes. Is it you playing
or is it demo mode? No, it’s me playing. Okay. You do it good, you do it good. I did practice yesterday. Seriously? Seriously. So let me ask you
something. The thing that is very famous and like a puzzle about the
NES and the Game Boy version which you can play here is with a link
cable. With two players, you can actually make more than one line
vanish, you can steal more than one line and then those lines appear on
the other person’s screen. Was that in the Russian version too? No, I didn’t make any two-player version here
at all. My version of Tetris was absolutely a solitary game. And later on, exchanging
the lines was a very natural way to organize the communication between the players. And
I think that it’s still the only way we could imagine a two player game structure to be
organized. So when you sold all the publishing
rights to Nintendo, you still had a hand in the game design in all
versions? Well, the people consulted with me and asked
for approval for the version, so yes, I was involved. Okay, now I lost. (the game -ed) Yeah, that’s okay. You’re not used to the
interface, you are forced to play with your other hand. What’s interesting is
that for the
European people, apart from the IBM version, the Game Boy and NES
versions were the first ones. It was actually the Commodore 64 version. Well, maybe in some European countries that
was so. I know that the original license was for PC separately and for all home computers
like Commodore, Sinclair, and other home computers, there was another license. And it was distributed
in the United States on PC and on the home computers in Europe. And then vice-versa a
little bit later. Maxwell Communication has the company for publishing game softwares,
which was Spectrum Holobyte in the United States and Mirrorsoft in Europe, so both belonged
to Maxwell and he structured it the way he felt comfortable. We didn’t have any influence
on that. How did he communicate to allow
changes or adjustments to the game play? For example, there’s a long
debate about the continuous rotation of the figures, since in some
versions, they constantly drop and others have endless rotations and
then you just press the button down to let it fall and there’s a lot of
debate going on about the different versions. Which is better? Which is
more fair? Well, basically I have my own version which
has no such problems at all. As I said, first PC version was very accurate. The version
published by Spectrum Holobyte, they did reverse engineer of my version and they reproduced
everything like the small detail and rotation and delays for walking very carefully. Well,
the other computers were relatively weak at the time and probably they couldn’t do a very
good job on it. But those versions didn’t live very long so
that was just some commercial stuff. What some people do know but not
everyone, is that you actually made a 3D version called Welltris as well. Yes, that was in ’98 I believe. That time
there was a kind of rip-off of Tetris called Blockout, a real 3D version which tried to
put the 3D pieces inside the grid. And that was a really, really, boring and complicated
game because the 3D shapes weren’t made mainframe and you barely recognize them and people didn’t
operate very well with the 3D on the 2D screens, you know. So basically I looked at this version,
and I didn’t like it at all. And I decided to find out how to do it in
3D and basically, in Welltris, you actually play on the grid of the walls of the 3D well,
so basically you have a very strong feeling that you play 3D but you’re still manipulating
2D images. And I think Welltris was one of the top 10 in 1990 but Blockout wasn’t. I
think I won. I tried to prove that it should be very carefully
thought through. Welltris was very popular for a short time in Japan on arcade machines.
People played for walls against each other and that was a very fun game, I saw it in
Japan. Amazing. Should we have a look at it? I have the 64
version for it. Oh really? Yeah. So basically it was the wall
of the well going deep and you could move the pieces, you could rotate the pieces as
you rotate it in Tetris, but you could move them along the walls around the stuff. And
when it comes to the bottom, they stay at the bottom at the very last portion. The problem
was basically, with the pieces on top and the pieces on the bottom, you have to kind
of use contra-intuitive interface. Sometimes you push the left button in order to move
the piece to the right when that’s on top or at the bottom. So it’s kind of contra-verse at the movement.
So that game should be played with the wheel, you know to rotate the piece around the well,
yeah. But with no wheel, it’s kind of difficult. So the arcade machine actually had
the wheel, you say? No, no, no. The arcade machine has four players
and everybody has the local wall to play with. It was like a four player Tetris and the pieces
meeting at the bottom. That was the idea. And you could probably take your neighbor’s,
and your neighbor plays as well. So it was kind of interesting arrangement for multiplayer
Tetris. What did come after Welltris? I
remember you did some other successful variants, like Yoshi’s
Cookie for Game Boy. Yeah, I did participate in Yoshi’s Cookie,
I did the puzzle mode for it. It wasn’t my game originally, but they asked me to work
on the puzzle mode and I put together several puzzles for it. Later on we published on PC
a very strange kind of game called El-Fish, Electronic Fish. It was kind of an attempt
to do very aesthetic stuff, so basically it was the tool to arrange the aquarium on your
PC and put in live fish and seaweeds and all the decorations. And you could breed the fish
the way you really wanted. We had some kind of interesting genetic mechanism to make a
lot of kind of live fish there. Something like a Tamagochi but in a
fishbowl. Yeah, it was published by Maxis who likes
all kinds of simulation so a simulation of an aquarium, yes. Sim City and stuff. Yeah, they do more sophisticated simulations,
so they kind of love our concept of the tank and that was for that level of hardware, it
was really, really advantaging stuff to do because we reproduced real 3D on a 2D screen
with no serious rendering processors at that time, you know. 386. So you always pushed the hardware to
its limits. Kind of, yeah. Well, other programmers are
very happy to work with me because I never ask them to program something really crazy
and undoable, you know. Because I myself am a programmer, I wrote a lot of codes and my
mind works in a way to simplify the work for programmers. So yes, sometimes I try to push,
sometimes not, it really depends on the project I mind. Then I entered Microsoft and I did
lots of games there. Also Tetris variants and stuff? Not really Tetris variants, but a puzzle collection
at Microsoft which was bundled for a while with some PCs and we had 10 different puzzle
games, all original, and four of them were mind games. Later on, I did work a lot on
a big game called Pandora’s Box for visual puzzles. And that was some of my favorite
work because I had 10 puzzles, not very logical, but mostly based on the images like jigsaw
puzzles or something like that but all the games were original. It was a good title, I could probably show
it to you, I have a poster on my wall. The red one, that’s for Pandora’s Box. Yeah, so it was break even. There were about
100,000 copies sold. Not bad for such a title, you know. And later on I did a lot of projects,
I participated in many projects for Xbox, but it wasn’t my platform because it was more
for hardcore players and I’m usually on puzzles. I like all the puzzle stuff. But I did the
game which were pretty successful there called Hexic and it was published kind of twice,
online and on Xbox as well. Well, you didn’t only do Tetris. No, no, no. I did work on many other titles
as well. So how is it for you? Was it
interesting to work on the other things too? Or are you more happy to
be involved in the Tetris project? Or things that were at least like
Tetris? Did you appreciate the chance to try something like the fishbowl
which was totally different from what you used to do? Yeah, well, you know I like Tetris, I still
play it and I love the game. And I’ve always enjoyed seeing a new version or if it’s kind
of related to Tetris. I do it with pleasure. But it’s just a job, I would never do it voluntarily.
But it’s a very agreeable job. Well, when this and other titles that came to mind, I
wanted to do it and originally I started coding this stuff. Now I ask my programmer friends
to do me a prototype and then we’ll see how it works. You’re not coding it yourself
anymore? No, no, no. I’m too aged for it already. You
know, once you lose it, you never pick it up again. I stopped programming 15 years ago
and once you drop it, it’s really hard to restart. It’s a very unique job. But your job with Tetris doesn’t stop
here. If I’m correct, on the latest project, you worked with Electronic
Arts, publishing it with Electronic Arts on Android and iOS. And there
were like 150,000,000 copies sold on smartphones alone. Well, I can’t say that I was very actively
involved in it. They just showed me the very ready versions and all they need is my approval.
But it was a good version, so it was okay. Yeah, but basically my involvement is, when
we license the game, they need to meet our requirements. So in every license agreement,
it is closed about the approvals so we look at their early version and say what to change
in order to meet the standard of Tetris. We maintain the brand very carefully and that’s
part of my work. So whenever there’s a Tetris version
out and its license, it will have a certain quality. Well, yes so many people proposed something
new, and we are okay with it as soon as the standard version is included, you know. You once said in an interview that
there are 11 versions of Tetris. How did you make those different versions
of Tetris? I mean, if you think about it, at first sight it doesn’t really
seem like you can make a lot of variants of such a game. Well, first of all, people try different things
with the game. The core mechanics, then the pieces, sometimes they try to add another
piece and that kind of dramatically changes the game. The most successful attempt was
adding a single piece that appears very rarely, but fill up very important gaps on the screen.
Just mino, not tetromino but one mino. Yeah, or this mino has some kind of special properties.
That’s what people do. Sometimes people try to do something with
the lines, with the collapsing of the lines. The very first diversion of Tetris was the
game called Bombliss. It came just in time of the first Tetris in ’91 or ’92 and it had
bombs embedded into the pieces and when the bombs came together on the field, if you arrange
several pieces with the bombs close to each other, the bombs explodes and instead of collapsing
the line it makes a big hole in the garbage of the screen. It was interesting, a little bit random, but
not as effective as line collapsing but an interesting version. Sometimes people did
a Tetris where, when the line collapses, they remained frozen but sometimes they try to
put some rules for this garbage to fall down. And in those versions there are different
ways to do it, it simplifies the game and makes the cascade of the lines happen and
those cascades could be very long. So some people like to try it but again, I
personally don’t like it very much because it’s really hard to predict what happens after
the line collapses. It’s just a random reward for you, you know. So you’re not sure it’s fair? Well, what is fair? Yes, it’s fair because
everybody who plays this version receives the same stuff, you know. Yeah. And lots of
extra rules in Tetris are coming with the two player version or multiplayer version
because they need extra stuff while they play and communicate with each other. So cause
harm to each other or help each other, whatever. So with those rules, that’s probably why there
are 11 or more versions of Tetris which are known to this day. What’s your favorite version? Out of what I played recently, I still very
much like the original Game Boy version. So everything there was done very good and somehow
I played that version a lot and I really liked it. So we have a so-called Tetris Zone, some
site which provides the more or less standard Tetris game. And the game there is very similar
to this Game Boy version so that’s what I play usually, Tetris from Tetris Zone. So are you still playing your Tetris
on the real old systems or are you using an emulator nowadays? If you
say it’s your favorite version. Mostly emulator when I come back, yes, I do
use the emulators. What are your next plans for Tetris?
I mean, now we have the smartphones stuff but what is coming after that?
What’s in your mind? What would you like to do this year? Well, we have a pretty solid version with
the iPhone, mobile version with touch. It’s a good, very solid and interesting version
but it needs some improvement and that improvement is coming. Basically my dream is to make Tetris
as a first electronics sports. I want to create some kind of very standard version which could
be played by professionals and amateurs and everybody to compete with each other. So you mean like professional E-
sports like we have nowadays called FIFA Soccer or whatever game. So you
would like to make a standard version for Tetris? For professional gamers? Yeah that’s my dream. I can’t do it myself
because it’s a lot of work, but that’s our plan and we’re trying to work on this version.
And it should maybe be a more simple version and it should be the version with some extra
stuff in order to compete. Because sport is competition and people should compete. And all the two player and multiplayer Tetris
are better or worse, but I don’t think that the really great version of multiplayer version
of Tetris is there yet. What will you make different,
assuming it’s not a secret? Well, one of the problems I noticed is that
Tetris, for the serious players is a very, very intensive game. When you play on high
speed it takes all your resources to just maintain the pieces and place it and whatever.
And that’s why you are very, very, very concentrated on your own playfield and you don’t have real
resources to see what your opponent is doing. So there’s no real communication between the
players because everyone is really, really, kind of swamped in their own playfield. So
that’s the problem for multiplayer Tetris. I don’t know yet how to solve it, so I don’t
want to really spoil the game itself, make it simpler or more slow because excitement
comes from the speed and good manipulation. But maybe some kind of good compromise should
be found for people to be able to really care about their opponents in the game, not just
about themselves. So when I come up with something, it will be a new multiplayer Tetris. How about if coop or team mode like
you would have in teams? Then they can see each other. Yeah, that’s what I like. Yes, I think that
might be some solution. So one player is kind of driving around, the other one is a navigator
who kind of strategically decides what to do. But you know, in order to introduce such
a game when you really need kinds of multi-multiplayer teams to start competing, it’s really complicated
to structurally organize it. So it seems this way is very promising but that’s a hard way
unfortunately. But we’ll explore it as well, yes. It’s actually interesting that you
are considering to create an e-sports version of Tetris, because in the
past interviews you always said that Tetris is about having fun but very
serious e-sports player are actually doing it for a living. I mean, those
who are really, really good. So how did you get your interest in to e-
sports and how does this fit? Well, every sport is fun, besides professional
is always fun, and I think that Tetris is a very useful game. I mean, it really stimulates
people’s brains, it really improves your spatial vision and it has therapeutic value as well
as we know. While some researchers say that Tetris is very useful in some kinds of post-traumatic
stress treatment as well. So it’s not actually just for
education, it’s also used in the medical way? Well, it was research that shows that that
it might be used for some post-traumatic treatment. It was in an article and we met these people
at Oxford who made this research. It was very interesting. So what we learned from here is that
Tetris is very, very flexible and can be used in many ways. Yes, exactly. So basically, if Tetris becomes
a really popular way to compete between people and it’s not boxing, it’s a very peaceful
competition, you know, it would be very good and well, the professional sport always kind
of grows up and exist on top of the real popularity of the game and involves of many people including
many amateurs. And this is great. A lot of people have the opinion that
you made history for Russia with that game. A lot of people connect Tetris
with Russia. So do you consider yourself famous? Or that you did
something important for your country’s history all? I think that my glory or fame is very exaggerated.
I mean, the professionals, the people who are involved in IT or computers, programmers,
they definitely know me and remember my name and understand it. But the general population
don’t give a shit about me, I’m pretty sure. So basically that’s the situation and well,
I created the game when I was in Russia and its good that it looks like a Russian game
but I don’t feel it’s a Russian game. It’s absolutely an international game for a while
already. But the Russian songs are there and it’s a very good spirit, I have nothing against
it and I think it’s funny. Was it your idea actually to use Russian folk
songs? No, the first versions which were published,
they all had the Russian churches, the Russian matryoshka’s and all other attributes of the
Russian cultures including the songs. And then it became a kind of a tradition. You did a lot of judging competitions
and events, where gamers were developing games. Do you feel honored
to be in a jury voting what other programmers do? Well, I feel I need to do it. I like to encourage
the young people to work on the games if they are talented and I always fight for the talented
students or participants for their title to be somehow nominated or prized. I feel that’s
an important thing to do. And I do it with pleasure. Did you ever consider to stop making
Tetris games and participating in it? Or are you the kind of person who
says, “It’s what I love. I want to do this for forever.”? Well, it’s what I love and basically, it’s
a job. Tetris still delivers me some funds and that’s why I need to work on it and I
need to support it. I hope you have a very good future
this year. I wish you a lot of success in your e-gaming plans which
is really very exciting to hear that you have such big plans for this
game. And I think the people who see (read -ed) this interview will be
excited to see what you are coming up with for the next year. Okay, thank you, Joerg. That was a good interview.
And I’m glad that I agreed to do it.

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