Tetris – 1993 Developer Interview

Tetris – 1993 Developer Interview

Although the history of Tetris is fairly well-known now, these two interviews from 1993 and 1989 feature comments from creator Alexey Pajitnov on a range of subjects, including his thoughts on other puzzle games, future video game technology, and the notorious Tetris copyright disputes. I’ve also added an interview from BPS developers of Tetris Battle Gaiden, a criminally unknown SFC descendant of Tetris.

Alexey Pajitnov – Creator

—What kind of work are you doing now?

Pajitnov: I’m a full-time employee of BPS America right now, so I’m working there. I recently helped design “El Fish”, which will be published by Maxim and released soon.

—I’m sure you’ve been asked this many times, but how did the Tetris development begin?

Pajitnov: I used to work as a programmer at the Soviet Computer Center Academy of Science. I mainly wrote programs involving voice recognition and artificial intelligence, but Tetris was one of the games I made in my spare time. It ended up spreading to other countries by word of mouth, and by bootleg copies.

—When was Tetris completed?

Pajitnov: I believe it was 1985. After that, BPS released a PC version in Japan and abroad, in 1989.

—How long did it take to create Tetris?

Pajitnov: About 3 weeks—as you know, it’s an extremely simple program. Tetris wasn’t the first game I had created either… I made about 20 other games while working at the Academy of Science. It seems Tetris was the one that sold the most.

—Why do you think Tetris was such a huge international hit?

Pajitnov: I think the gameplay has a good balance of real-time and randomness. The sense of rhythm created by the falling blocks is a big part of it too.

Alexey Pajitnov (1993)

Other than that, I’ve read lots of psychological theories and analyses of Tetris, and while I’m personally in agreement with all that, I’m also not really sure how true it all is.

—Influenced by the success of Tetris, a huge number of similar puzzle games have now been released. What do you think when you see those?

Pajitnov: When I see them, I don’t automatically think “oh, they copied Tetris!” I think a number of them are excellent games actually, and I enjoy playing them myself. I think their similarity to Tetris is simply the fact that they are “falling block” games. There have been a lot of those released.

—I imagine you’ve had the chance to observe the video game scene in a number of different countries. What are your thoughts about that?

Pajitnov: I don’t really keep up with all that regularly, but I do get to see a lot from around the world at the CES expo twice a year. Every year I see two or three games that look really exciting to me. However, while hardware performance has gone up, and the creators are more skilled than before, and can create higher quality products in general… from a conceptual standpoint, I think things are poor. I rarely see any software that seems new and revolutionary, or makes me go “wow!” I think that’s because more and more games today are simply produced to meet the needs of the market, not because they’re interesting in their own right.

—There have been a lot of exciting new medias coming out lately, like CD-ROMs. Any interest there?

Pajitnov: I think CD-ROM media and virtual reality are the roads to the next generation of video games. I suppose CD-ROMs do signal a revolution in data storage for games, but I suspect it won’t be much of an evolution in terms of quality. The real revolution in gaming will come from virtual reality technology.

—What kind of games would you like to make in the future?

Pajitnov: I want to make more intellectual games (as you could probably guess). For example, I think it would be neat to make a game where there’s “people” in your computer, and you have to teach them different things… like an evolution of “Little Computer People”, I guess.

Pajitnov with the Hippon! Super interviewers.
Tetris – 1989 Developer Interview

with creator Alexei Pajitnov; taken from the GSLA

Regarding the copyright dispute between Nintendo and Tengen, the first thing I want to say here is that the rights we gave to Tengen only allowed them to develop a Tetris port for the personal computer. However, over time, the definition of personal computer was broadened and came to be seen to include “home video games”. We, however, never had any intention of issuing rights to Tengen for a home video game port of Tetris, so when BPS came to us for the first time in February, to show us their Famicom port of Tetris, we were surprised… “why are there console versions of Tetris?!” Anyway, much later, Nintendo came to us. The rights they claimed to Tetris for home video game consoles was, first and foremost, a right that we never sold to begin with, not to anyone. That means it wasn’t a valid right, even if Nintendo had purchased it from someone.

Tetris is insanely popular in the Soviet Union. Actually, there apparently have been some workplaces where Tetris has been responsible for a decline in worker productivity. It’s so bad, I’ve heard stories of “Anti-Tetris System” programs circulating—programs that will automatically wipe the disk data on any copy of Tetris inserted into a computer.

The truth is, in the Soviet Union there are no packaged computer game products, per se. The price of goods in the Soviet Union and Japan are completely different, you see, and almost no one owns a personal computer in the Soviet Union. That means there’s also no computer game shops in our cities, nor is there really a commercial profession called “game designer” in any real sense. That’s why I guess you could say, I’m the only game designer in the Soviet Union.

Tetris Battle Gaiden – 1993 Developer Interview

originally featured in Dengeki SFC magazine

Norifumi Hara – Designer
Shinatro Matsuhara – Programming
Mariko Hakone – Graphics
Yasuo Takagi – Programming

—How did the Tetris Battle Gaiden development get started?

Hara: We were tasked with creating a sequel to Tetris, and I love versus fighting games, so I wanted to make head-to-head competitive matches the main focus. Originally the title was “Batorisu”,1 and we were developing it for the Famicom, but of course the Super Famicom was a better choice, we realized.

—Can you say more about why you made competitive (versus) matches your main focus?

Hara: It was partly to enhance the puzzle gameplay, of course, but personally I just love competitive games where everyone is getting all rowdy and excited. At the same time, there’s never been a Tetris game with head-to-head matches versus a computer opponent, and we thought that would be really fun to add. I also thought that adding characters for the versus battles would be a good way to break down the image many people have of Tetris as a “stodgy” or stiff game, and lighten things up a bit.

—Why did you add special moves…?

Hara: Tetris can get a little monotonous, so we added the unexpected element of special moves to shake things up. It also makes you think about what your opponent is strategizing, and helps even out the differences in skill gaps between players. Above all, though, we wanted to do something visually impressive.

—How about the crystals inside the blocks, where did that idea come from?

Hara: It was the best way we could think of to enliven that original gameplay feature of Tetris (erasing blocks).

—What was your first encounter with Tetris?

Hara: My first time playing Tetris was the Famicom version of Tetris 2 + Bombliss, when I was test playing it for release. That was how I got really good at Tetris. (laughs)

Tetris Battle Gaiden gameplay.

—How do you feel right now, having seen the development of Tetris Battle Gaiden through from initial planning to its release today?

Hara: It’s been a long trip. (laughs) We came up with a number of novel elements for Battle Gaiden that would be new, but also not damaging to the image of the original Tetris. Many people helped us out, and now that it’s all done, I can finally take a breath of relief. And I’m sure hoping that everyone who actually plays it will think it’s fun!

—What were some of the programming challenges?

Matsuhara: I did the programming for the special abilities. Those took a lot of fine-tuning, to make sure they were balanced between the different characters. It was hard, because there were so many combinations to test.

—Which special ability was the hardest to create, and which is your favorite?

Matsuhara: The most challenging were “Dark” and “Dainashi”. My favorite is “Inori.” (Prayer)

—Were there any challenges you faced when you had to switch the development from Famicom to Super Famicom?

Matsuhara: Once we changed over to the SFC we were able to add more fearsome special abilities, but then the enemy AI then couldn’t keep up. Balancing the enemy AI was very tough—it’s a moving target, because human players will get better the more they play. In fact, just one day before the deadline, we added an expert mode.

—I’d like to ask about the graphics next. How did that go?

Hakone: I translated the concept art into the actual character graphics. I was originally assigned to do background graphics after BPS hired me, though. I was abruptly switched over to character graphics for this game so it was very hard, in many ways. I was working and re-working the character animations right up to the deadline.

—Are there certain characters who are stronger or weaker against other characters?

Hara: Well, generally speaking, our main priority was making everyone equal and balanced against each other. People will probably be strongest with whichever character they play the most, I guess. And everyone has a different favorite. (laughs)

Takaki: Yeah, we even gave test players a questionnaire which asked who their favorite character was, and the answers were all different. (laughs)

Hara: When a testplayer told us so-and-so was too strong, we nerfed them accordingly. We wanted all of the characters to be appealing and lovable in their own right. I guess it all depends on the player’s personality and their skill. I personally think Halloween is very strong. (laughs)

—What do you think the future holds for Tetris?

Hara: As forefather and progenitor, Tetris will probably always cast its shadow over future “block dropping” games. In the future, I think it would be cool to see more visually impressive games. And while I want to see new ideas and cool block-clearing effects and so forth, whatever it is, I want it to retain the recognizable core of Tetris.

L-R: Norifumi Hara, Mariko Hakone, Shinatro Matsuhara, Yasuo Takagi.

If you've enjoyed reading this interview and would like to be able to vote each month on what I translate, please consider supporting me on Patreon! I can't do it without your help!

  1. A combination of the words “batoru” (battle) and “tetorisu” (tetris) that doesn’t quite translate well into English.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *