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The title that made the Game Boy a massive hit is 32 years old

Tetris was built on a simple premise but it is still every bit as addictive now as it was in the 80s.

Image: Wikimedia

IT’S BEEN 32 YEARS to the day since Tetris first made its debut. The game was around for a while before it truly made its mark on the Nintendo Game Boy back in 1989, making it instantly recognisable across the world.

It’s now the best-selling game of all time, having sold 495 million copies since it first debuted in 1984, and still entertains many to this day (it’s incredibly easy to find a version to play on your browser or phone).

Created by Russian programmer Alexey Pajitnov, the title comes from the combination of two words. ‘Tetr’ comes from the term ‘tetromino‘, a geometric shape comprised of four squares, while the ‘-is’ part is derived from tennis, which is Pajitnov’s favourite sport.

In Tetris, there are seven shape variants (I, J, L, O, S, T and Z) which you can rotate them in four directions (the exception being O which stays the same regardless).

Originally Pajitnov tried to create the game using pentominoes, geometric shapes comprised of five squares, but he deemed having 12 pieces to be too complicated and so reduced it to tetrominoes.

Tetris 2 Source: World of Longplays/YouTube

In a 2014 interview with The Guardian, Pajitnov talked about the decision to clear lines in the game

Next I put together the procedures for manipulating the pieces: pick a tile, flip it, rotate it. But the playfield filled up in 20 seconds flat. Also, once you’d filled a line, it was kind of dead, so why keep it on the screen? So I made each full line disappear, which was key. I was a pretty good programmer and it took me about three weeks to get something controllable on screen. I pretended I was debugging my program, but in truth I just couldn’t stop playing it. When other people tried it, they couldn’t, either. It was so abstract – that was its great quality. It appealed to everybody.

From there, the game was released on different consoles and PCs (with some companies releasing their own versions of the game), but it wasn’t until it arrived on the Game Boy that it became the iconic game it is today.

It was the perfect union. A handheld that was all about simplicity – while other handhelds like the Game Gear and Atari Lynx used power-hungry colour screens and were bulky, the Game Boy’s monochrome display meant its battery life was much longer – its talents perfectly complimented the simplicity and easy-to-understand mechanics of Tetris.

Before the iPhone Source: Daniele Civello/Flickr

Its influence is so great that the majority of smartphone games today follow the same format.

It was instantly accessible, you could bring it anywhere with you, you could jump into it for short bursts or long playthroughs, and the uncomplicated nature of the game meant you could spot patterns and start planning your moves.

Increasing the speed as you progressed added a degree of tension to it but every time a game ended, you could clearly see where you went wrong and improve. With that knowledge, you would have another go and keep going until you realised you spent hours playing it.

This made Tetris such a timeless game and one that will continue to be a major part of gaming.

Read: This is now the second best-selling videogame of all time >

Read: Without the budget of Google, these Waterford students created a self-driving car >

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About the author:

Quinton O'Reilly

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