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Thursday, November 14, 2013

Readers Choice: TETRIS


Well, I only had one response about what game to blog about next. Connie suggested Tetris, so Connie here's your Tetris fix:

Tetris. The very name should conjure up memories for almost everyone on the planet. The 1980's saw this popular game go from the mind of a Soviet Union developer (Alexey Pajitnov)  to the rest of the planet virtually overnight. This might seem normal by today's standards, but considering the fact that the Cold War was still going on, it's really quire remarkable. Tetris  helped unite East and West, at least in the gaming industry, and showed us all that it was possible to tear down walls of indifference.

Originally Tetris was found on early IBM computers and the Commodore 64, but it soon spread like a virus to everything else imaginable. Almost every game console ever released has had a version, or a Tetris inspired version of the game available.

Original Soviet Tetris Game
Gameplay is relatively simple. The objective is to eliminate lines of solid blocks, by rotating and dropping pieces in to the gaps at the bottom of the playing field. The pieces can also be shifted left and right to move them in to better dropping positions. Once you drop pieces in to place, and complete a full line, it disappears. You can even eliminate up to four lines at once in a single play, if you strategize enough. The playable pieces are a simple combination of four smaller
The 7 Tetris Pieces
squares that are arranged in to seven different geometric configurations, the most coveted being the single line of four blocks called a "Tetris stick" by my family. The pieces themselves fall on their own, but you can force them to drop quicker once you have rotated and shifted them to your liking. You advance to the next level by clearing out a set number of lines, usually ten. Each level advancement involves a bump in the rate at which pieces drop on their own. In some versions the level up also includes adding additional blocks to the bottom of the puzzle, causing the level of the playing field to jump up. The game ends when the player either fills the playing field with pieces, thus blocking any new pieces from being able to fall, or by clearing enough lines to reach a certain level, i.e. level 99.


The three versions of Tetris that I am most familiar with were the ones released on the GameBoy (Tetris), the Nintendo Entertainment System (Tetris), and the Super Nintendo (Tetris/Dr. Mario). I will briefly summarize these three versions below.

GameBoy/Nintendo:

No real difference between these versions. The GameBoy version allowed you to play from the comfort of the backseat of your car while on road trips, or while sitting in class at school. My dad once spent most of a 5 hour car trip playing Tetris in the back seat of our van. He said three things the entire trip, "Huh?", "What?", and "I need a coke".  The NES version was essentially the same game, but in color, and with an easier 2-player interface.




Super Nintendo:

While there was a Tetris 2 version available on the SNES, the only Tetris game I played was the Tetris/Dr. Mario combination. Tetris/Dr. Mario took two games from the original Nintendo system (Dr. Mario, and Tetris), and combined them in to a single game cartridge. You could either play each game individually, or you could play a mixed match game, where you would have to play through a single level of Tetris, then a single level of Dr. Mario, and then an open game of Tetris. The mixed match games were timed, so the goal was to get through the first two single-stage games quickly, and then try and rack up points on the open Tetris game before the time ran out.

The 2-player mixed match game was the one my family spent the most time playing, although to this day my dad can still be found playing a single-player mixed match game. The 2-player game utilizes the same format as the single player, but you can drop "whammies" on your opponent by either clearing multiple lines at once in Tetris, or by getting a chain virus elimination in Dr. Mario. The only time these are available are when both players are playing the same stage of the match at the same time.

The Tetris whammy added one, two, or three new lines to the the bottom of the puzzle, depending on weather two, three, or four lines were cleared at once. The Dr. Mario whammy caused two or three single blocks to drop down on the opponents playing field, again depending on if they got a chain elimination of two or three different viruses.

The ultimate goal of course was to have the higher score at the end of the timed game, so it was worth it to try and get in as many multiple eliminations as possible, especially in the final open-ended Tetris game.

In closing, Tetris was an icon of the 1980's. It  not only united East and West in the Cold War Era, but brought families together in the spirit of competition. The Tetris theme itself is also iconic, in that whenever most people hear it, they immediately think of the times spent playing a simple game born during the end of the Cold War. So the next time you play Tetris, remember, it was a world changer. At least to me it was.