Tetris Company celebrates classic game's 40th birthday

You're not a 1985 truther, are you?

We hate to be the ones to break it to all you El Reg readers, but we're informed the classic video game Tetris is turning 40.

Tetris, perhaps the Soviet Union's biggest-ever export, is celebrating four decades of dropping blocks on everything from personal computers to consoles big and small and modern smartphones. 

This vulture in particular - who would've been around two-and-a-half years old when Russian computer programmer Alexey Pajitnov first coded his magnum opus - remembers spending hours playing Tetris on his first-generation Game Boy in stunning green-and-black high-contrast graphics. One can only play so much Super Mario Land or Metroid 2 before needing a break, after all. 

The game may have remained largely the same since then, but Tetris' look has definitely evolved. One latest version of the game, Tetris Effect: Connected, even has competitive and cooperative play alongside VR support. The Tetris Company, formed in 1996 to manage licenses for the brand, even announced a new look in 2022 to accompany Tetris' 40th anniversary this year. 

"The enduring appeal of Tetris lies in its simplicity: easy to play and highly intuitive, making it accessible to everyone," CEO Maya Rogers said of the game. "It's a remarkable achievement for any brand, especially a video game, to transcend generations, and Tetris has firmly established itself as a cultural icon."

And, of course, it wouldn't be a modern brand if Tetris hadn't begun selling merchandise and launching corporate tie-ins to bring cash into the Tetris empire over the past 40 years. Adulthood can get expensive, after all. 

Wow, incredible graphics!

As far as the official Tetris corporate line is concerned, Pajitnov created Tetris in 1984 - June 6, 1984, to be precise - on a Soviet Electronika 60 computer.


The welcome screen of the original version of Tetris, all ASCII, on an old PC ... Click to enlarge. Image supplied by: The Tetris Company

The Electronika 60 lacked a graphic user interface, meaning the first Tetris blocks were just rows and rows of ASCII characters. The reason Tetris rows disappear? Legend has it it's due to the limited memory in the Electronika 60, which necessitated clearing the screen. The machine is basically an LSI-based PDP-11 clone.

The original game can still be played on the web, FYI.

It wasn't until 1985 that Pajitnov ported the game to the IBM PC to be distributed more widely, and the game took off and became a super hit behind the Iron Curtain thanks to clones of Big Blue's computer. Fast forward to 1988 and Dutch video game designer Henk Rogers discovered Tetris at a trade show. Obsessed with the game, Rogers brought it to the masses the very next year when it was packaged with the original Nintendo Game Boy and sold into the hands of impressionable young Millennials around the world.

Maya Rogers, current head of the Tetris empire, took over for her father, Henk.

According to one self-described Tetris historian posting to handheld gaming forum Tetris Concept, the official Tetris timeline - that the game's genesis was in 1984 - is not right, and they are not alone in believing that.

Using the handle necrosaro, the netizen said that, in their research into Tetris' birthday, early documentation appears to suggest the game was actually created the following year in 1985. Books on video game history, copyright filings, and testimony from Pajitnov's development partners all pointed to 1985 as the creation point, necrosaro said.

In 2009, a PR firm held a 25th anniversary event for Tetris, which kicked off on June 2 of that year, and from then on the 1984 year seemed to stick for the web at large, according to necrosaro. "June 2, 2009 is the earliest date I have been able to find where the year 1984 [is mentioned]," they said.

Necrosaro added that the 25th anniversary publicity campaign mentioned June 6 as the official Tetris birthday, a date they've been unable to confirm elsewhere as having a connection to Tetris.

Well, OK, but just because, for one thing, some copyrights for Tetris weren't registered until 1985 doesn't mean the game wasn't around before then, and it's entirely possible authors of books that mention Tetris got their information from copyright filings. Meanwhile, Wikipedia editors assert the first playable version of the game was completed in 1985 after being started during the year before. Is this an argument over created and completed?

The Tetris Company's official line over the years is that Tetris was born on June 6, 1984. We note that The Tetris Company was founded by Rogers and Pajitnov after the latter moved to the US in 1991.

The Tetris Company was quick to dismiss the 1985 contention, telling us it's not accurate.

"Although some sources on the internet claim the game was created in 1985, Alexey created the first version of Tetris on June 6, 1984, now recognized as World Tetris Day," a spokesperson told The Register.

Birth date aside, it's been 40 years, or near enough, and Tetris is likely to continue to define casual video games in the same way it has for ... well ... much of the of the history of computer gaming.

"We are excited to continue evolving Tetris for future generations," Rogers the younger said of what's still to come from what started as software from Russia, with love. ®

PS: The esteemed Gaming Historian Norman Caruso made an hour-long documentary on the story of Tetris, below, and he says it all started in 1984.

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