Ecstasy of Order is a documentary about Tetris and the quest to find the game's grandmasters.
Tetris. We've all played it, rotating the pieces ("tetrominoes") and dropping them in the perfect place, or despairing as we discover a piece won't fit. You may have even joked about "mastering" the game during a stint of unemployment, or as a child, before you could afford any other Game Boy cartridges. But what about the people who've truly mastered Tetris? Where are the Kasparovs and Fischers, the great champions who've dedicated their minds to solving its deepest puzzles?
One man made it his mission to find them. In an effort to legitimize Tetris as a pro sport, Tetris super-fan Robin Mihara summoned the greatest Tetris players from around the country to compete in Los Angeles at the 2010 Classic Tetris World Championship. Among them are the only players known to have reached the unthinkable perfect 'max-out' score on classic Nintendo Tetris: Jonas Neubauer and Harry Hong. Add in the top players for most lines, Ben Mullen and Jesse Kelkar, as well as newcomer Dana Wilcox and modern-day Tetris Grandmaster Alex Kerr, and a storm of Tetris greatness is brewing.
The film is also on Hulu (US-only) if you don't mind commercials.
When Steil achieved his current high score of 889,131 points (and 222 lines) in October of 2012, it felt like a loss. Despite being Steil's best game to date, it represented a failure to reach the perfection of a max out. When he posted the score on Facebook for his Tetris friends to see, he wrote, "Another new high score, but what a choke job at 222 [lines]. Each new high score is a minor success as well as a monumental failure."
This attitude pervades competitive Tetris, and it highlights the perverse aspect that the best game is still a loss. Faced with this harsh reality, NES Tetris players have devised ways to compete (the Championship), milestones to achieve (max outs and high numbers of lines per game), and ways to measure performance (max outs achieved starting at higher levels are more difficult due to the game's speed). Fundamentally, however, players compete against themselves and lose every time.
Here's what getting a max score on Tetris looks like:
The halftime show of the OSU vs Nebraska football game featured the OSU Marching Band's tribute to classic video games. This is a 9 minute video, and I surprised myself by watching the whole thing. Tetris at 1:25 is fantastic, and the running horse at 6:00 EXTRA fantastic.
Alexey Pazhitnov, a computer programmer from Moscow, created Tetris in 1985 but as the Soviet Union was Communist and all, the state owned the game and any rights to it. Who procured the rights from whom on the other side of the Iron Curtain became the basis of legal wranglings and lawsuits; the Atari/Nintendo battle over Tetris wasn't settled until 1993.
You think you're good at Tetris? Think again. Hell, you think you're good at anything? Think again, again! Tetris grandmaster Jin8 shows you how it's done:
It starts getting insane around the 3:00 mark and then, at 5 minutes in, all the blocks turn invisible and he keeps right on going! It's like he's playing blindfold speed chess on the hood of a stock car!! I mean, !!!!!
Tetris didn't start with the Game Boy, of course (Pajitnov created it for the PC in 1985), but the Game Boy made it mainstream. Ultimately, Tetris proved so popular that it quickly drove sales of Nintendo's handheld console into the millions. Tetris's grown-up gameplay also attracted adults to Nintendo's new platform, expanding Game Boy's potential audience beyond the usual adolescent NES set.
Somewhere, I still have an original Game Boy with a Tetris cart wedged into it.
Even after two weeks of letting Tetris HD play by itself, the screen is only about 2/3rds full. It's a fun image to see but the browser chrome is perhaps just as interesting...the Google search for "fuck fuck fuck" and a tab containing the Wikipedia page for "Anal sex" for example. (thx, my main man dj jacob)
Who knew that radically expanding the size of the game board in Tetris makes the game almost completely unplayable, unless the object is to die in the least amount of time possible. Reports, which I have sadly corroborated with my own play, say that it take 15 minutes to complete one line. OCD, anyone? (via waxy)
Andrew of Songs To Wear Pants To makes songs from suggestions you send him. You can even commission a song from him for a special occasion like a birthday or anniversary. Recent tracks include a Tetris rap and a song written for a guy who likes a girl but doesn't know how to express it (she's got "beautiful light blue eyes, long brown hair, and great athletic body" which Andrew translates as "I don't even care about her personality" in the song).
The following is a great 2004 BBC documentary about Tetris, the man who created it, and the lengths that several companies went to in order to procure the rights to distribute it. Tetris - From Russia With Love:
Alexey Pazhitnov, a computer programmer from Moscow, created Tetris in 1985 but as the Soviet Union was Communist and all, the state owned the game and any rights to it. Who procured the rights from whom on the other side of the Iron Curtain became the basis of legal wranglings and lawsuits; the Atari/Nintendo battle over Tetris wasn't settled until 1993. There's an abbreviated version of the story, but the documentary is a lot more fun. A rare copy of the Tengen version of Tetris, which was pulled from the shelves due to legal troubles, is available on eBay for around $50.
Very high on the list of things that don't need to be advertised is Tetris. Chances are you remember this Tetris commercial from the 80s anyway. "Use your thumbs, use your eyes, find yourself Tetrisized!"
Today was a maintenance day around kottke.org. Some long-overdue backups, upgrading the OS and some applications, cleaning up the desktop, getting rid of some unneeded files on the web server, trimming my newsreader subscriptions, going through my spam, the kind of stuff that gets put off because it just doesn't sound that fun and you can get by without doing it over the short term. I really don't mind it so much...there's a certain satisfaction you get in completing such tasks. The crossing off of todo items from a list, bringing structure to a messy situation, tidying up.
A friend of mine (who I can't link to because he got cross with me the last time I did) has a theory that most modern sports are about tidying up. Put the ball in the goal, all the balls in the pockets, clear the tennis court of any balls, etc.:
Explaining to [an acquaintance] why I like watching snooker on tv so much (she doesn't: it's slow and boring), I realised that snooker is rarely tense, and it's not enjoyable to watch at all: it's extremely satisfying, relaxing almost. Snooker is a game where you have to make a big mess at the beginning with the break, and then you're never going to get them all neat like that again, so it becomes a process of cleaning the balls away into the pockets very very carefully. First you put away the red, then the black, then the red, and, oh, I did that one wrong, so now I have to do the pink, and the red again...
Lots of video games are like that as well. Pac-Man, Katamari Damacy, Dig Dug, Quake, Space Invaders. Chores too, of course. Two chores I find extremely satisfying are bagging groceries and (especially) mowing the lawn. Getting all those different types of products -- with their various shapes, sizes, weights, levels of fragility, temperatures -- quickly into the least possible number of bags...quite pleasurable. Reminds me a little of Tetris. And mowing the lawn...making all the grass the same height, surrounding the remaining uncut lawn with concentric rectangles of freshly mowed grass. Despite the gigantic blisters I got on both my thumbs last time I cut the grass, I finished with a euphoric giddyness (perhaps akin to a runner's high) that was simultaneously calming.