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: OK, why not work on the game you won the GDC game design challenge with?
Pajitnov: [Laughs] I have no intention to do that myself but if somebody called me and said, "Alexey I will program that game for you, I will make it for you," sure. [Laughs] But I don't think anyone will do that, sadly.
Kikizo: So what games do you play in your spare time and which ones do you enjoy the most?
Pajitnov: I don't have a constant preference so I usually play two or three different puzzle games and recently I have been playing a bit of World of Warcraft.
Kikizo: Oh, what level are you on and with what character?
Pajitnov: I have several characters. As a game designer I am always interested in what makes something work in a game so I tried all kinds of characters. My favourites are hunters. I have a few hunters. I have a mage. Haven't done too much on the Horde side.
Kikizo: Isn't it dangerous for a designer to play World of Warcraft because, lets face it, it kills off productivity.
Pajitnov: Well I didn't spend that much time in it and I know how to handle addiction. A big part of its appeal is the interaction with other people so I am interested in how they tune the game with the different characters and I played the game to see how that worked. They did a pretty good job there. I am not saying it's perfect or excellent but it works.
Kikizo: What inspires you to make games?
Pajitnov: Some things just come to me and with most of the games it's the influence of other games. Maybe that sounds very boring but that's how it usually goes. Sometimes the inspiration is positive and sometimes it is negative. An example would be Hexic, for instance. That was inspired by Bejeweled - in a negative way. I was playing Bejeweled and it frustrated me, I felt that the game wasn't designed properly so I tried to make the game the way it was supposed to be.
Kikizo: Did you feel that Bejeweled 2 was a better game then?
Pajitnov: Yes, definitely. Bejeweled 2 was a much better game. It corrected the faults of the first one and was much more fun to play.
Kikizo: What puzzle games at other companies have caught your attention lately?
Pajitnov: Well I haven't played too many puzzle games recently. I saw a few interesting games on DS recently but I didn't purchase a DS yet.
Kikizo: Didn't Nintendo give you one?
Kikizo: Why not? They should. It's got a Tetris game after all.
Pajitnov: I didn't ask for one. But its pretty cheap. maybe I should buy one when I am back in Seattle. I just didn't have time, I guess, with all the travel recently.
Kikizo: That's what I do when I have a long distance flight though - bring my DS along and play some Tetris on the flight.
Pajitnov: Oh, no. I try to rest. I sleep when I fly.
Kikizo: Did you ever imagine Tetris would become as big as it did?
Pajitnov: Well I realized early on that it was a good game but of course no one could have predicted that it would become that big.
Kikizo: What are your impressions about today's consoles (Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Wii)?
Pajitnov: I really hated consoles. From the very beginning I was a PC person. And now I love the consoles and I believe that they are the driving force now. I believe that the introduction of game-tailored controllers will become really big. Those are things I am looking forward to.
Kikizo: Do you mean specialty controllers like the Wii has?
Pajitnov: Yes, but much more than that. Special controllers tailored to specific games.
Kikizo: What's your opinion on the consoles themselves?
Pajitnov: I worked on the 360 and my next game is for the 360 as well. It is a really nice platform. I like the PS3 as a platform as well, even though I don't own one yet. And I am looking forward to the Wii. I don't have it yet either but I really want one so I will buy one once they are readily available.
Kikizo: What are your thoughts on the DS and the PSP?
Pajitnov: Well, I am mostly outside of the handheld business. I am more of a PC and console person, but I did try them and the PSP has several good puzzle games but they didn't inspire me enough to purchase one yet. And the DS I will probably get soon.
Kikizo: Your games focus on pure playability rather than flashy effects, bombastic sound and high end graphics.
Pajitnov: Yes but that doesn't mean I don't appreciate games that excel in those areas. I like my games to be good, of course, but as a designer that is what I can do so I try to do my best on my strengths rather then try something which I know other people can do better then me. Maybe other people can take my games and make them look really pretty. [Laughs]
Kikizo: Speaking of that, a lot of people have complained about seeing Tetris in their dreams, or closing their eyes and seeing the blocks, or walking around and starting to think about lining up the blocks to clear lines, etc. How do you feel about getting into people's heads like that?
Pajitnov: [Laughs] Yes, if you play something for a long time that is what happens to you. I don't think it's something inside the games. I had it with World of Warcraft as well where I saw battles play out, so it's nothing special about Tetris I think. It can happen with all games.
Kikizo: In 1990 I couldn't get the Tetris Game Boy music out of my head. I could hear it playing in my head at the least expected times.
Pajitnov: [Laughs] Yeah, sometimes music can have that effect too.
Kikizo: And do you have a final message for the readers?
Pajitnov: No, I never have messages, sorry. I don't want to act like I know more than other people and teach them and lead them and tell them what they should do. Come on.
Kikizo: Well that is a great final message.
Pajitnov: Just play the games and enjoy yourself.