Interview: Tetris - The Making of an Icon
We interview two game prodigies, Alexey Pajitnov & Henk Rogers, whose fasninating story behind Tetris goes right to the top of NCL - with plenty of twists along the way.
Kikizo: Talking about Hexic brings me to an observation of mine. A lot of people don't know you've done work on all these games. A lot of people play Hexic HD on the 360 and they have no idea it's one of your games.
Kikizo: So it's not like it's a conscious decision of yours to keep your name off the product?
Pajitnov: Oh, no, it just happened. I created everything, it's there, they just didn't use my name for advertisement, that's it. I don't know for what reason because for Pandora's Box they did it and for Hexic they didn't. I didn't mind it either way. They pay my salary you know.
Kikizo: I was wondering about it because in the past we have seen that they put your name on the box to push a title and we see examples these days where they slap the name of a designer on the box of a freeware PC game conversion so they can sell it by associating said designer with a game he had little do with, like Every Extend Extra on PSP, for instance, where the game gets sold on Tetsuya Mizuguchi's star power.
Pajitnov: [Laughs] Well Spectrum Holobyte tried to do something like that with me, like I mentioned a bit before. That is what publishers sometimes do and it is all part of the marketing. Like I said, I don't mind if the games I get attached to are really good games and I don't get involved into what marketing does. I like to make games so that is what I do and they do their job. Sometimes that doesn't work out the way you want but I am not a specialist in marketing so I don't get involved in that. Whatever marketing asks, I do. If they want my name on the box, sure, if they don't want it on there, I don't mind.
Kikizo: You won the GDC game design challenge this year. Will you be competing again next year?
Pajitnov: That left me a little bit confused. They called me and asked me to compete at the challenge and I didn't understand completely. I wasn't aware I would be competing against other people so that's why my presentation was so poor.
Kikizo: But you did win.
Pajitnov: Yes, but the other guys, they had made these great and funny presentations. I liked the one by Harvey Smith especially. He had a great and well thought out story line. It is too bad nothing will be done with it though. This is a big problem with American industry. They have these great ideas and creativity but they never pursue it and it stays in the conceptual phase.
Kikizo: Going back to Russia, there has been a huge shift in the social structures in Russia and life has changed dramatically for everyone. So what time in Russia do you feel was the best for you?
Pajitnov: Well, I don't know. I like Moscow. I like the city. Love walking around and doing stuff here with friends and relatives. And then I head back to the United States to work.
Kikizo: Do you still see most of your friends from back when you made Tetris?
Pajitnov: Well some of my old friends and colleagues, yes, but there are a few I have lost track of because they have passed away, moved out of the country or other things like that. I have lots of other friends too who stayed here and had nothing to do with Tetris or my work, childhood friends, school friends, etc. People who I try to stay in touch with and who I love visiting when I am here in Moscow.
Kikizo: And in Hawaii there is Henk Rogers. How often do you visit him?
Pajitnov: I visit him several times a year. We are good friends and we discuss our work as well as what we would like to do and ask each other's advice. He has a very interesting project right now for instance and I am wondering if I should get involved in it or not, because while the project is very interesting it is not my genre and not the sort of thing I usually do.
Kikizo: Can you tell us a bit more about that project he is working on?
Pajitnov: Its sort of like Second Life but on Mars. There are a lot of things that can be improved with Second Life and he wants to make something like that but done right. Maybe I could get involved making game activities to use in that virtual world, but I really don't know yet.
Kikizo: After you left Microsoft there was an announcement by Wild Snake Software that you would start working with them on some projects. What is the status on those?
Pajitnov: Ah, yes, those are business friends of mine. They live near Saint Petersburg and they formed this company, and I formed a partnership with them a while ago. They were one of the developers of Microsoft Puzzle Collection, and since then they formed Wild Snake and we have worked together. They are a bunch of creative guys and I love to work together with them. They are a pretty small company but hopefully you will enjoy the games we are working on.
Kikizo: Are there any particular game designers that you admire?
Pajitnov: Oh, yeah. I really like Will Wright. I love his games. Actually he is a good friend of mine and every time we meet we talk a lot about games. I really like Sid Meier and have spent a lot of time playing his games on my PC, and I love the games by Shigeru Miyamoto. I like tactical stuff a lot.
Kikizo: Can you tell us a bit more about your current projects?
Pajitnov: I have a couple of projects with my friends at Wild Snake. I plan on refreshing one of my old games and I am working on another Microsoft project, but its still too early to talk about those because they are still in the early stages.