Happy 25th birthday, Tetris

Tetris will turn 25 years old later this week. And we have a retrospective on the ups and downs of the famous falling-blocks puzzle game's history.

Tetris
Ah, the good ol' days of Tetris. The Tetris Company

On Saturday, Tetris, the famous falling-blocks puzzle game, turns 25.

Tetris was created by Russian programmer Alexey Pajitnov in June 1984. He had an immense love for puzzles, and he felt compelled to create a game that allowed players to arrange distinctive puzzle pieces along the bottom of a field or "matrix." Pajitnov chose the name Tetris by combining the words "tetromino" and "tennis."

The game was first made available on the IBM computer. It quickly enjoyed popularity and was ported to a variety of other platforms. In 1987, it became a major hit in the United States.

But it wasn't until Nintendo released its version of Tetris for the Game Boy in 1989 that Tetris reached critical mass. According to The Tetris Co., the Game Boy version of Tetris sold more than 35 million copies.

Pajitnov made very little money from his popular game during that time. Prior to the release of Tetris on the Game Boy, a series of legal disputes ensued over who really owned Tetris. Atari Games, the former Soviet Union government, and Nintendo all fought in court over the rights to the title.

Eventually, Tetris Holding became the exclusive agent for Tetris licensing rights. The Tetris Co. holds the license to Tetris. Since that company's inception, Tetris has made its way online, attracting 1.5 million monthly visitors. The game is available in-flight on 50 airlines worldwide. It's also available on a variety of mobile devices. The Nintendo DS version of the software sold 2 million copies.

And today, Pajitnov is back where he belongs--controlling the legacy of Tetris.

"We have exciting plans for the future of Tetris," Pajitnov said in a Tuesday statement. "We want to make Tetris more accessible to kids, boomers, and busy moms--everyone who enjoys a fun, stimulating, and even meditative short escape from the daily grind."

The importance of Tetris

So what will the future of Tetris hold? Only Pajitnov knows. But if it's anything like the past, I'm sure that it will be just fine.

Pajitnov's game left an indelible mark on the lives of millions of gamers. It was the game we all played on our Game Boy. It was the title we had to have whenever a new Nintendo handheld was released. It was, quite simply, one of the few games that started our love affair with games. Along with Super Mario Bros. and Pong, Tetris helped defined the video game industry during its early years.

And that's why we celebrate the 25th anniversary of Tetris this week. It might not be the most beautiful game. It certainly isn't the most complex game. But even in the face of today's epic story lines and gorgeous graphics, there is little debate over whether it is one of the greatest games ever released.

Happy birthday, Tetris. And thank you.

Check out Don's Digital Home podcast, Twitter stream, and FriendFeed.

About the author

Don Reisinger is a technology columnist who has covered everything from HDTVs to computers to Flowbee Haircut Systems. Besides his work with CNET, Don's work has been featured in a variety of other publications including PC World and a host of Ziff-Davis publications.

 

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