True story behind the classic video game

Taron Egerton, Sofia Lebedeva and Nikita Efremov in Tetris. (AppleTV+)

If you grew up in the early 1990s, you probably spent a few hours of your life glued to a Game Boy playing Tetris. However, the true story behind this massively addictive classic video game is so compelling and unexpected that it has to be seen to be believed.

Thankfully, that will soon be a very viable proposition. Tetris premieres worldwide on Apple TV+ on Friday, March 31, and stars Rocket Man’s Taron Egerton as the man responsible for bringing this deceptively simple block-based game from the depths of crumbling Cold War-era Russia to the world at large bringing and risking everything in the process.

Directed by Stan & Ollie filmmaker Jon S. Baird and produced by X Men: First Class boss Matthew Vaughn, viewers should expect something similar in tone to David Fincher’s The Social Network, but packed with enough unlikely thrills to make it sits comfortably next to all the action. packed spy thriller.

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With a dose of added comedy, plenty of intrigue, and some nifty 16-bit animation sequences to help tell its story, Tetris looks to be one of the game’s most unexpected origin stories in recent years.

Is the Tetris movie based on a true story?

Alexey Pajitnov (right) - Soviet computer engineer and programmer, developer of one of the most popular computer games in history - Tetris.  Moscow, Soviet Union, September 3, 1989 (Photo by Wojtek Laski/Getty Images)

Alexey Pajitnov (right): computer engineer and programmer, developer of Tetris in 1989. (Wojtek Laski/Getty Images)

While it takes a few creative liberties to streamline a complex series of real-life events, the Tetris film is in fact based primarily on a true story.

Contrary to how ubiquitous Tetris eventually became, it was actually invented by accident by a Russian software developer with a passion for puzzles. In the late 1970s, Alexey Pajitnov worked for the Soviet Academy of Sciences and invented the game that would eventually morph into Tetris while attempting to recreate a popular childhood pentomino puzzle on early computer software.

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His new concept streamlined his childhood fun slightly, swapping out his twelve shapes for seven tetrominoes and making completed lines disappear to avoid clutter and add to tense gameplay.

Combining the term “Tetrominoes” with his favorite sport, tennis, Pajitnov coined a name for his new game – Tetris – and soon everyone in his office was hooked.

Alexey Pajitnov (right) - Soviet computer engineer and programmer, developer of one of the most popular computer games in history - Tetris.  Moscow, Soviet Union, September 3, 1989 (Photo by Wojtek Laski/Getty Images)

Soviet computer engineer and programmer Alexey Pajitnov in 1989. (Woytek Laski/Getty Images)

It wasn’t long before Pajitnov was keen to export the fun for others, but he faced a number of hurdles.

First, he knew nothing about business, and even if he did, the Soviet Union had strict import and export regulations, with government employees not allowed to sell their creations.

Eventually, with the help of a colleague, he managed to get the game circulated outside of Russia, and it soon found its way to Robert Stein, a salesman for London-based tech company Andromeda Software.

Realizing its potential, Stein quickly contacted Pajitnov to obtain the license needed to sell in other territories and faxed the necessary details. Pajitnov had no idea that by signing this fax, the paperwork could be considered a legal document in the western world.

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Believing he had his license, Stein began buying Tetris and soon sold the European rights to Mirrorsoft and the American rights to a company called Spectrum HoloByte. The real money was in America, however, and after a design overhaul, Stein set his sights on that lucrative market.

While Russian connections were an obvious issue during the height of the Cold War, the game’s Soviet aesthetic was actually used as a selling point, while retaining traditional Russian music and iconography on board.

TO GO WITH AFP STORY BY BAPTISTE BECQUART Russian creator of the video game Tetris, Alexey Pajitnov, holds the 'Digital Greenhouse' trophy April 9, 2015 during the inauguration of 17,000 square meters of office space entirely dedicated to digital creation in the northern French city of Valenciennes.  AFP PHOTO / FRANCOIS LO PRESTI (Photo credit should read FRANCOIS LO PRESTI/AFP via Getty Images)

Alexey Pajitnov in 2015. (AFP via Getty Images)

The game was soon made available on a variety of American platforms, but with no clear indication of its creator. Instead, it was simply quoted as saying that Tetris was a product “made in the United States of America and developed abroad.”

However, Stein’s fax-based license was flimsy and technically, he had sold the rights to a game he didn’t actually own. Knowing that he would have to return to Pajitnov to obtain the official license, he returned to Russia and entered a lengthy negotiation process.

Meanwhile, Pajitnov was unaware of the fact that his creation was actually already on sale in various markets, but when he discovered this fact he was surprisingly cool with it, saying, “The fact that so many people are enjoying my game, is enough for me.”

With that, Tetris was officially available in the US on popular consoles like the Amiga, Atari and Commodore 64, but it hadn’t made it to Nintendo – which is where Baird’s Tetris movie picks up.

What happens in the Tetris movie?

Taron Egerton and Nikita Efremov in the Apple TV+ movie Tetris.

Taron Egerton and Nikita Efremov in Tetris. (AppleTV+)

In Tetris, Egerton plays Henk Rogers, an aspiring video game developer and businessman who spies on the potential of Pajitnov’s video game while trying and failing to bash his own game concept at a convention in Japan.

With its simple premise involving various falling shapes made from small cubes that need to be positioned and aligned correctly to make them disappear – while a countdown clock adds extra pressure to your mission – Rogers finds all the necessary ingredients to make it a fast worldwide hit .

There’s only one problem. While Stein had sold rights to a variety of different markets, some companies believed they were the sole owner of his license.

Meanwhile, Elorg, the game’s original Russian-based owner, was unaware of most of these deals and thus received no monetary compensation for any of their successes.

But Rogers had a plan. After befriending Nintendo bigwig Hiroshi Yamauchi, he believed Tetris would be the perfect co-launch product for their new portable gaming device, the Game Boy, and after negotiations with Stein hit a brick wall he was forced to take matters into his own hands to secure a new, robust license for the game.

BOSTON - JUNE 30: The cover of the Nintendo Game Boy game,

The cover of the Nintendo Game Boy game Tetris. (Getty Images)

To that end, he traveled behind the Iron Curtain and entered into negotiations with various political and business figures in Soviet Russia to try to unravel the complex rights issues and pave a way for a future with Nintendo.

However, with the Russian Soviet Union nearing collapse and tensions reaching an all-time high, he soon finds himself caught up in a tangle of lost translations and dangerous KGB obscurities.

After risking his family home to fund his quest, the race is on to defeat the system, avoid danger, and gain the upper hand before it all closes in on him.

Along the way, he met the game’s inventor, Pajitnov (played here by Nikita Yefremov), which helped cement his position. With the founder’s name still largely absent from Tetris publications, Rogers makes it his mission to give Pajitnov the credit he deserves.

What happened to Tetris founder Alexey Pajitnov?

Nikita Efremov in Tetris.  (AppleTV+)

Nikita Efremov as Tetris creator Alexey Pajitnov (Apple TV+).

By securing the rights to Tetris for Nintendo, Rogers in turn helped Pajitnov gain recognition and critical acclaim from Western eyes.

Welcomed by the tech and software community in America, the Tetris creator was regularly invited to speak at conventions and electronic shows, and in 1996 all rights related to Tetris were returned to him.

Soon after, Pajitnov and Rogers formed their own company to oversee the future of Tetris, and as of today, that organization is responsible for managing all future editions and regularly ousting copycats from the App Store.

When is the Tetris movie coming out?

Thankfully, viewers won’t have to wait long to explore the compelling true story behind Nintendo’s classic block game as the film debuts March 31 on Apple TV+.

Tetris launches Friday, March 31, 2023 everywhere on Apple TV+. Check out a trailer below.

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