It’s the 25th birthday of Tetris, the simple and addictive videogame that grew from humble Soviet roots to become a world-beating phenomenon.

The game was originally designed by researcher Alexey Pajnitov of the Soviet Academy of Sciences, who programmed it on an Elektronika 60, his first desktop computer. He wrote numerous mathematical puzzles games on the computer but only one stood out: A simple game with no scoring and no levels in which blocks fell from the top of the screen to the bottom, where they had to be arranged in rows to make room for more falling blocks.

A PC version of the game floated around eastern Europe for awhile before Dutch videogame publisher Henk Rogers caught sight of it at the 1988 Consumer Electronic Show in Las Vegas. “My first impression was that this game was too simple, that there was nothing to it. Then I came back and played it again. And again,” he said. “Soon I realized there was something going on – no game had grabbed me at a show just like that.”

Rogers eventually struck a deal with Nintendo that saw Tetris bundled with the Game Boy, a pairing that turned the game into a worldwide sensation. 125 million copies on more than 30 platforms have been sold around the world since then and the game has inspired countless imitators and spin-offs, and in 2007 Tetris earned second place in IGN’s list of 100 Greatest Videogames of All Time, which described it as “the most-played, most-imitated, most influential puzzler of all time.”

The secret to its success? Pajitnov says that while Tetris is a good program, it’s still viable after a full quarter-century because he and Rogers remain dedicated to it. They maintain a remarkably strict set of standards that official Tetris products must adhere to, including the size of the playing area, the colors of the blocks and the configuration of the controls; all licensed products must also include a version of Korobeiniki, the famous Tetris theme song.

“I think that most of the classic games which were written in the 80s or early 90s are dead just because their authors or owners didn’t care about them,” he said. “They’re still interesting to people, especially now with the new boom of casual games.”

“I always thought that every game has a certain shelf life. In the early PC business it would take somebody else a year to copy your game, so I thought we had a year or two before somebody came up with a better Tetris,” Rogers added. “You know what? They tried. But in 25 years, nobody has.”

Source: The Guardian

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