The True Story Behind ‘Tetris’: What Actually Occurred

The film model of Tetris tells a narrative practically as absurd because the notion of an Italian plumber touring to a magic kingdom to battle an enormous turtle and rescue a princess. It includes a mad battle over the rights to the unique Tetris recreation, which was created in Russia by an unassuming pc engineer named Alexey Pajitnov.

Taron Egerton performs Henk Rogers, an formidable recreation designer and entrepreneur who stumbles upon an early iteration of Tetris at a commerce present and turns into obsessive about it. Over the course of Tetris, directed by Jon S. Baird and written by Noah Pink, Rogers mortgages his dwelling, leverages his firm, and dangers potential imprisonment behind the Iron Curtain, all to safe the rights to promote Tetris within the West, whereas evading, outsmarting, and outbidding a number of opponents, together with a crafty European businessman named Robert Stein (Toby Jones), and the boastful Kevin Maxwell (Anthony Boyle), the CEO of one in all Britain’s largest media corporations, Mirrorsoft, and the inheritor to one of many nation’s largest fortunes.

An opening title card proclaims that Tetris was “based mostly on a real story.” However simply how truthful is the movie model? In some methods, it is vitally correct. In others, it’s a full fabrication. However the components which can be genuine and the components that aren’t might shock you in a number of instances. (In others, they may positively not.)

The Actual Story of Tetris

For probably the most half, all of the broad strokes — and all the important thing gamers — in Tetris are true to life. As proven within the movie, the traditional puzzle recreation was created by Russian pc scientist Alexey Pajitnov (performed by Nikita Yefremov), who developed the sport in his spare time. Pajitnov was impressed by a lifelong love of puzzles to develop Tetris, a reputation that mixed “tetra” (or 4) and “tennis” (which has little or no to do with the completed recreation, however no matter). Because the movie exhibits, the early model of the sport was extremely crude; Pajitnov wrote this system on a pc with out a graphics card, so the primary tetrominoes items had been made out of brackets.

This was Russia within the mid-Eighties, circa the dying days of Communism. That meant Pajitnov couldn’t promote his recreation or revenue off its rights. As an alternative, he initially gave copies of Tetris to mates and colleagues in Russia, and it proved so addictive it unfold like wildfire. As within the Tetris movie, copies even made there strategy to Hungary — the place they had been first seen by a salesman named Robert Stein of Andromeda Software program. Impressed by the sport, Stein was in a position to make use of his connections in Russia to contact Pajitnov; the pair despatched a collection of faxes indicating Stein’s curiosity in licensing the sport and Pajitnov’s willingness to enter an settlement with him.

Stein interpreted the faxes as a contract, after which started promoting the rights to make Tetris to varied different corporations, together with Mirrorsoft, the corporate owned by British media tycoon Robert Maxwell (performed within the movie by Roger Allam). However the grey space between what Stein thought he had and what he actually possessed finally led to a mad scramble for varied rights to Tetris in varied territories and on varied types of platforms: Computer systems, arcades, online game methods, and handheld.

The Movie Model

The Tetris film’s essential character will not be Pajitnov or Stein, however Henk Rogers, the Dutch recreation designer and salesman who finally turns into the center man between the Soviet authorities group “Elorg,” which controls the rights to Tetris, and Nintendo, the corporate that will finally make Tetris a popular culture legend by packing it with its first handheld Recreation Boy online game system.

The film model of Rogers (performed by Egerton) is a captivating, relentless, however finally extraordinarily trustworthy businessman. After he acquires the rights to promote Tetris within the Japanese market, he convinces Nintendo to let him make a model for the Famicon (principally the Nintendo Leisure System’s Japanese counterpart). When Nintendo exhibits Rogers the prototype Recreation Boy, he is the one who suggests they use Tetris, reasonably than a brand new Tremendous Mario Bros., as the sport included with every system. When his efforts to get handheld rights from Stein and Mirrorsoft are unsuccessful, Rogers travels to Russia — on a vacationer’s visa, which is an enormous no-no — and walks into Elorg with out an appointment to barter his personal deal.

That results in an outrageous sequence the place, by sheer happenstance, Rogers, Stein, and Mirrorsoft’s Kevin Maxwell are all concurrently negotiating their very own offers with Elorg in separate convention rooms, whereas the top of the group, a person named Belikov, makes an attempt to extract the very best deal for the Soviets. Initially, Belikov accuses Rogers of promoting unlawful bootlegs of Tetris, as a result of he doesn’t consider anybody holds the rights to make variations of the sport for consoles just like the Nintendo.

It seems that Stein had interpreted his preliminary contract with Elorg extraordinarily broadly, taking his rights to promote Tetris for computer systems to additionally imply dwelling online game methods. After Rogers factors out the flaw within the contracts to Belikov, Belikov forces Stein to signal a new contract which primarily cuts him out of the Tetris gravy prepare for consoles and handheld video games solely, and permitting Rogers and Nintendo to flee Russia with the deal of a lifetime — regardless of Robert Maxwell flying to Russia and utilizing his friendship with Soviet Union chief Mikhail Gorbachev to aim to stress Elorg to promote him the rights to the sport.

Separating Reality From Fiction

As ludicrous as this convention room sequence appears, it’s apparently based mostly largely on what actually occurred. In accordance with the BBC documentary Tetris: From Russia With Love, which you’ll be able to watch beneath, Belikov and Elorg actually did carry out simultaneous negotiations with all these events, primarily pitting one towards the opposite. And one other YouTube documentary, The Story of Tetris, even backs up the notion that it was Rogers himself who identified the failings in Elorg’s contracts with Stein to Belikov, giving him an higher hand within the negotiations. It’s also apparently correct that the Maxwells tried to get Gorbachev to affect the negotiations of their favor, a gambit that finally proved unsuccessful.

What’s not correct, or a minimum of will not be current in any model of the creation of Tetris and the negotiations for the appropriate to provide the sport all over the world that I might discover, is the involvement of Soviet politicians and KGB brokers attempting to intimidate Henk Rogers into abandoning his quest for the Tetris rights. Among the threats proven within the movie did occur; Rogers confirms in a single documentary that when he offered Elorg with a replica of Tetris for Famicon, they actually did accuse him of theft, and he did fear for some time that he may find yourself in a Russian jail camp.

However different parts of the KGB’s ways are completely invented for the movie. In an interview with Collider, Jon S. Baird confirmed that the film’s climactic chase scene, which sees Henk Rogers and several other Nintendo workers racing to the airport — and pushed there by Pajitnov — to flee Moscow earlier than the KGB can catch them, didn’t really happen. As he defined…

We had been being a bit metaphorical with that as a result of they had been beneath a number of stress from, clearly, the KGB and from Maxwells and from the whole lot else, however the automobile chase via the middle of Moscow to get to the airport and stuff was positively a Hollywood model of their pursuit from the rival factions of who wished Tetris.

In a separate interview, the actual Henk Rogers stated that whereas he and Alexey Pajitnov did seek the advice of on the script for the movie, and the creators did pay attention when their solutions “needed to do with authenticity … when it began moving into [creative flourishes like] the automobile chase and all that, it was like, ​‘OK, now it’s all them.’ We couldn’t change something.”


So, not too surprisingly, the wild automobile chase is the most important and most excessive change within the film. Ensure you come again to ScreenCrush in a number of weeks so we will clarify how The Tremendous Mario Bros. Film deviates from the precise story of Mario Mario throughout his journey to the Mushroom Kingdom. And in case you’re all for extra of the actual story behind Tetris, this BBC documentary consists of interviews with lots of the key gamers, together with Rogers, Stein, and Pajitnov.

And this video incorporates parts of that doc, and different sources, to inform an much more complete model of the occasions.

You’ll be able to watch Apple’s personal video on “the story behind Tetris” beneath:

Tetris is taking part in in choose theaters. Will probably be out there on Apple TV+ on March 31.

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