Q&A: Tetris creator Alexey Pajitnov

The father of one of the most popular games of all time talks about his inspiration, his latest project, and how he feels about the fact that the game was originally property of the Russian state.

It's one of the best-loved games of all time, with eight million game carts sold to date on Nintendo systems, and countless versions made on a variety of different platforms. The game is Tetris, which was developed by Alexey Pajitnov while he was working at the Computer Centre in the Russian Academy of Science. It was inspired by a puzzle game called Pentomino, which consists of several differently shaped blocks that can only be fitted together on a board in one particular way.

The Original Blockhead.

The original Tetris game was a mere 27kb in size, and Pajitnov programmed it in Pascal, on the Electronica 60, a computer that had only slightly more memory at 32kb. The original build of the game took him between 10 to 14 days, and didn't include things such as the score bar, which was added later.

Pajitnov was at the GameCity event in Nottingham, where he gave two talks about Tetris, and answered questions on panels with Margaret Robertson and Paul Carruthers. GameSpot also caught up with him after the event.

GameSpot UK: Were you worried Tetris could be addictive?

Alexey Pajitnov: It is addiction. It was designed for this. Our goal was to provide you guys with 100 hours of gameplay. I never do the game a little bit boring so people won't want to play it too much.

GSUK: Do you think there should be more emotion in games?

AP: I can't say wrong way for sure--no one has the right way. As games designers, we just set up the environment and some motivation. Emotion comes from you guys, and we can't control that. As soon as I design drama for you, I take away your freedom in the game environment. Either we do action and we are in the game, or we do emotion and we are in the movies.

GSUK: Where are your sources of inspiration?

AP: I can't say I have found one single very reliable source of inspiration. I like to solve puzzles and do board games. So lots of good ideas come from those games and those activities. Sometimes I sleep at night and I have a good idea in a dream--so my dreams are a very important tool for me.

GSUK: Do you ever still play Tetris for fun?

AP: Yes, but pretty rarely. I play the new versions to see if everything's correct, but that's work.

GSUK: Will Tetris be played forever?

AP: Yes. Technology may change but our brains don't. So basically, I don't know why not.

GSUK: Have you ever felt it was a burden because any game you produce after Tetris will be judged against it?

AP: You're right. When I first came to the US, those first two years, I tried to beat myself and create something better than that, and that was a very hard time because I couldn't do it. So then I just decided to stop thinking about that and just go ahead and design what I wanted to do.

GSUK: Are you a very good Tetris player?

AP: Oh no, I'm not. There are lots of professional players and they are unbeatable. But I am a good player, I could finish the Game Boy game up to level 10.

GSUK: What current games are you enjoying?

AP: I really enjoyed World of Warcraft. Last year, I played a lot.

GSUK: Did you think Tetris was a good game when you'd finished it?

AP: When I saw how I played and other people played it, I thought it was a good game. I thought it was about the same as other PC games that were out at the time, certainly not worse, not better either.

GSUK: Can you tell us about your latest project, Hexic?

AP: Hexic is done. I was really angry with the guys who made Bejeweled; they had a wonderful idea and concept and they realized it really badly. So basically, I decided that I will design a game similar to Bejeweled, but the way it's supposed to be.

GSUK: Is it true there's a Tetris bible for developers?

AP: Yes. I was very much involved in this. I was part of the team that wrote the original document. We got very tired of the variety of different versions of the game in the world, and players were complaining that some of the versions didn't work the way they were supposed to--for instance, they could get a really high score on one game, but not do well on another. So we decided to make a list of the specifications.

GSUK: Is it theoretically possible for one person to play Tetris forever?

AP: No, because the score counter is limited. If you play for two weeks, then all of a sudden, your score counter is zero.

GSUK: What do you consider to be the definitive version of Tetris?

AP: I'm not sure if it's still available, but Tetris Zone from Blue Planet Software. It accommodates all the rules in the bible. Before that, we considered the original game to be the best standard.

GSUK: What are you working on now?

AP: I don't have anything really right now. I'm at the early stages with a couple of concepts. Now I feel like it's about time to do two-player puzzle games. But I feel like I may be too late, and someone else will come up with the perfect game in the next two to six months.

GSUK: Would the game be working together or against each other?

AP: For players, competitive mode is usually much more powerful, much more attractive. So probably competitive, I'm afraid.

GSUK: Does it ever bother you that you never got paid for Tetris?

AP: Well, first of all, it's not true, because originally I granted my rights to Tetris to my Computer Center, to my organisation, for 10 years. And when those 10 years expired, I got my rights back. And since 1996, I've been receiving some royalties for it. And I'm pretty happy with what I'm getting now. And I never complain about those 10 years, either... In order to fight for my rights for the rest of my life, I decided to give it up for a while and make it happen. This decision should be done before people realise what we've given them.

GSUK: Have you ever considered making a different genre game rather than puzzles?

AP: Yeah, actually I tried to do different games, actually I was very desperate to do something else, but then I realized that what I am good at is puzzles. And I am okay, probably, with the other stuff. So, why bother? There are lots of really good designers of adventure games out there. I would rather exploit my stronger points. Our attempt to make a kind of shoot-'em-up game failed completely. Oh, my goodness. That was in 1994, I believe, and the game called Ice and Fire. So, hopefully, nobody played this game. [Laughs.]

GSUK: Can you tell us anything about the other games that you created before Tetris? Is there anywhere to get hold of them?

AP: Yeah, I did several games. They are not significant. Most of them were published in Microsoft Entertainment Pack Puzzle Collection. There were 10 games, and four of them were mine. Two of them were Colour Collision and Snake Charmer.

GSUK: What do you think of the Russian game industry now?

AP: Two or three years ago, I did feel some promising kind of tendency there. There were three or four very powerful companies, which were doing something good. Later on, now somehow they--I can't say they failed. But they stopped their good way. So, right now, the economical situation kind of took Russia out of outsourcing [that] kind of stuff because now it's too expensive, but didn't bring it to their publishing world. So, we became again kind of in-between. So, there are several companies, at the moment. But mainly they are adapting famous games from overseas to the Russian market mainly. That's their business, unfortunately.

GSUK: Thanks for your time.

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Discussion

60 comments
Devvy01
Devvy01

Thanks for the greatest ever puzzle game, played it to death on my gameboy..

RgvXavi
RgvXavi

27KB!, Amazing how such a small game can pack a lot of fun. of course the modern day Tetris' are a little bigger and come with a few more game type's but still the same fun addictive puzzle gameplay. I got Tetris for the DS and I must say whenever I'm at Barne's and Noble(wifi connection) there is never a shortage of people to party up.

AzureWind213
AzureWind213

Word. Tip your hats to a legend, people. I been playing tetris since i had a NES at 5 years old...

termadoyle
termadoyle

Tetris always bored since I was 8 years old. I can see how it can be addictive but I just couldn't take more than 10 mins. of it in one run. I'm a graphics whore and puzzle games like this just don't quench my gaming thirst.

ahyumifan
ahyumifan

Well, I played Tetris since when I was 5 years old . 18 years have passed since then, I don't play Tetris a lots as i did when I was young, but I do play occationally. However, one thing clear is that this game mechanic is aged, and I don't think there is a good way to make this game really good now. It's aged well, but its too old that although it did, it can't stand on the time. Tetris had its new gametypes such as cascade, fusion, hot-line, etc, however its still very much too depended on the tetris mainflow which is still too familiar and old. However you can't deny that the Tetris is the most revolutionizing game ever made. If Super Mario Bros is the father of all platforming, the Tetris is the father of the puzzle game.

Strike_Zer0
Strike_Zer0

That was a good read. He seems like a very intelligent nice person.

anyjabroni
anyjabroni

Whatever the game is, I'm gettin' it!

Trindris
Trindris

This is a good interview, he talks silly. Don't get me wrong though, the guys a genius.

graphikal
graphikal

Simply genius. He created such a simple game that can be so addictive and played anywhere.

Ra-Devil
Ra-Devil

Tetris will never die. It may get to a point where everybody has their copy of Tetris, and you can't sell anymore, but Tetris will always be enjoyed.

jknight5422
jknight5422

"AP: I don't have anything really right now. I'm at the early stages with a couple of concepts. Now I feel like it's about time to do two-player puzzle games. But I feel like I may be too late, and someone else will come up with the perfect game in the next two to six months." They created it already. It's called Puzzle Quest. I need to go get my copy of Tetris Revolution for the 360. Should complement my console nicely. Hexic is fun too, got high score out of all 67 of my 360 friends list. :)

ColdfireTrilogy
ColdfireTrilogy

Ahaha one of the few interviews i enjoyed reading... hes a funny guy even if he isn't trying to be. probably because he is still very much like an ordinary person, not trying to make himself sound like a god or anything ... just going along with life like the rest of us.

grafkhun
grafkhun

yeah he has created one of the best games of all time, awesome job man.

Generic_Dude
Generic_Dude

This guy is a legend... all based around one game too. Hexic is good and all, but Tetris is monolithic.

SimuLord
SimuLord

GS: "What do you think of Russian game industry?" AP: "Is good noble Soviet gaming! Is great gamings for people like Big Rigs and Tarr Chronicles and Instinct! Together in Revolution for all!"

sandjar
sandjar

There was a super interesting documentary about Tetris and what happened to Alexey and this guy from Nintendo. The film was made by BBC I think. Has anyone seen it. If not I highly recommend it.

123monkey
123monkey

Yay for tetris, one of the most addictive things in the world!

marvin7893
marvin7893

"GSUK: Can you tell us about your latest project, Hexic? " Do these people do any research before they interview a person, not only is the game done but it was put on the 360 hard drive when it was first launched.

Reetesh
Reetesh

yay for tetris and nice interview :D

Timstuff
Timstuff

he looks just like the fascist president of Iran lol

jwallace
jwallace

darkzerogamer: My favorite version of Tetris believe it or not was Tetrisphere for the n64. Couldn't get enough of that game. I remember that game! That and the New Tetris for the N64 were my favorite Tetris games. I REALLY hope that Nintendo releases one or both of them for the Virtual Console. Having to clear enough shapes in the sphere within a time limit so that the little robot could jump out was surprisingly addictive. The graphics were PS-X quality but the game was so entertaining that it didn't matter.

Pie_FOREVER
Pie_FOREVER

Pfft, Tetris ripped off Halo. It's got nothing on Halo HALO 4EVR

solidte
solidte

That game rocks in every possible way, flawless.

b00003243
b00003243

read a book on nintendo years ago and they had a few chapters on this guy. He never made a penny from the game. Not sure if he ever made anything on it after Russia stopped being a communist state. It was interesting anyway, the Russian goverment was sell the rights to the game to every company with any interested and breaking all sorts of contracts

Erebus
Erebus

For English clearly not being his first language, the man speaks brilliantly.

_Cab0ose87_
_Cab0ose87_

I think my Dad would be brought to .. i Can't say "tears" cause i have never seen him cry... Not even when HIS dad died.. He's like Red Foreman. ANYWAYS, If i could get this guy to talk to my Dad for like 15 minutes i think he would be completely dumbstruck. That's what i should get my dad for his 59th birthday! an Interview with Alexey Pajitnov. :P

dn3datomiced
dn3datomiced

I like that guy. He's very level-headed, modest. You don't get that kind of self-awareness and clarity from other developers. (I'm looking at you, Dave "Games are Porn" Jaffe)

markevens
markevens

This is the one game I downloaded for my cellphone, and I'll never need another.

reactionsok
reactionsok

[This message was deleted at the request of a moderator or administrator]

reactionsok
reactionsok

what a horrid interview gamespot did! they didn't ask the real good questions like.. did you get rich? did you have lots of sex with random girls? tell us about your last coke party? do you feel sad that tetris is greater than you?

lamprey263
lamprey263

I've lost count of how many times proud Russians have reminded me that Tetris came from Russia. But it's a great game that's stood the test of time. @darkzerogamer - I agree with you, Tetrisphere was the coolest version/variation of Tetris ever made

RaiKageRyu
RaiKageRyu

Always a pleasure to read an interview with Alexey Pajitnov.

Lt_gamer
Lt_gamer

tetris will never go away, which is a good thing. also, the theme music just kicks ass.

V-Nine
V-Nine

Pentomino eh? Sounds like the desrciption a gameboy game called Deadallion Opus. I wonder if its based on Pentomino.

N8A
N8A

Good to know that he finally received his royalties. Would have been a shame.

blacktorn
blacktorn

Oh wow I didn't know he made Hexic,that is a gr8 puzzle game.

darkzerogamer
darkzerogamer

My favorite version of Tetris believe it or not was Tetrisphere for the n64. Couldn't get enough of that game.

jwallace
jwallace

Alexey Pajitnov is a rare individual who has fantastic talent and creativity yet doesn't suffer from egomania in regards to his progress. I'm also impressed that Blue Planet Software (according to a recent documentary on the Science Channel) is protecting his Tetris rights to ensure him of fair compensation. A true visionary and a person to admire.

Tenjikuronin
Tenjikuronin

I was wondering what happened to Alexey.....lol Great guy, Tetris is awesome.

MasterAsh42
MasterAsh42

A great read. . .I learned a lot about the man and his history I didn't know.

kori911
kori911

That was an awesome interview.