Alexey Pajitnov is, of course, the creator of Tetris — a game he originally developed while working at the Academy of Sciences in Moscow in 1985. Of course, during the late ’80s the game’s popularity exploded internationally. It essentially founded the casual puzzle genre thanks to its appeal to a very wide audience, and made dropping-block puzzles a staple of game design.
These days, Pajitnov is not just one of the principles of The Tetris Company, which manages the rights to the game in its many current incarnations; he’s also still an active developer, as he discusses in this interview, working on a new multiplayer iteration of Tetris that’s been underway for over 10 years.
Gamasutra spoke to Pajitnov at the conclusion of the game’s 25th anniversary festivities, and discussed with him his current views on the industry, his memories of the game’s initial development, and what he’s currently working on. This interview touches on everything from basic tenets of multiplayer design to the potential future of the game industry — as per Pajitnov’s vision.
The 25th anniversary of Tetris is coming to a close.
Alexey Pajitnov: Yes. Yes.
You can’t have anticipated the celebration of the 25th anniversary of Tetris when you were originally working on it, I’m sure.
AP: [laughs] Absolutely not!
We’re all familiar with the story of you sort of working on it in the then-Soviet Union as a personal project. There was no anticipation that it would even be a commercial product, when you first started it, right?
AP: Exactly, yes. Well, when the game started just breeding, you know, the very first version, the very first prototype, I did realize that it might be a very good game because it was very addictive even in the early stage, but I never could have imagined anything like the history it actually had.
At that time, while there were a lot of home computers in the West, there weren’t really home computers in the USSR, were there? Not for average people.
AP: Not really. That’s right. All the computers were used mainly for scientific and research [purposes]. They weren’t even seriously used in any commercial purposes.
And the computers that you used at the time, were they imported from the West? Or were they homegrown technology?
AP: Actually both. We had several kinds of Russian-produced computers, and I used to work on them. But my computer server was one of a small number of not-secret organizations because it was Academy of Science. That’s why many of Western kind of companies just exchanged with us, with hardware as well. So, basically, we did see some Western computers as well.
When you were originally working on Tetris, what kind of computer was it that you used to produce the first version?
AP: It was Russian computer called Elektronika 60. It was a clone of LSI-11computer like PDP-11. It was kind of a mini machine. [laughs] It was very ancient, and it didn’t have any graphics on the screen, just letters and numbers.
It’s interesting the whole story about how Tetris came out in the West, it was very convoluted at the time as well, the original releases. We’ve spoken to Henk Rogers recently, and everyone knows the history there, but it was quite an interesting process.
AP: Yes. That was fun.
It’s not just that it was a game that was very good for the time; it was foundational. It defined a genre. It defined a new genre, which is something that game developers have struggled with. Even at the time, when the medium was more ripe for exploration, it was still hard to define that new way of looking at gameplay.
AP: Yes. Well, most of the games which were popular at that time were like was like mostly like a kid-ish game with animated characters like Pac-Man or Q*bert. Tetris was obviously appealing to everybody, not just for children.
Did you have any access to other Western games on the computers that you had there? Were you able to play things?
AP: I had seen them and tried them, but they weren’t available for me for all time, you know. At that time I didn’t work on PC; I could just come to my colleagues and ask to look at them, but it wasn’t in my possession.
Were you actually interested in games as such as something to move forward in at the time, or were you just doing this just because you had the idea?
AP: Well, I was very interested in games. I liked to play every game. I like board games and everything. Tetris wasn’t my first game, I wrote several other puzzles at that time. They weren’t very interesting, but I did it. So, basically, yes, I did have a certain interest in games at that time.