15 July, 2008

Tetris & Rocket Science

May 11th, 2007


Tetris is one of the most famous videogames ever created. Its father, a Russian by the name of Alexey Leonidovich Pajitnov, is however way less famed than his creation, and I don't think many even know his name. Nor did I know his name, or even was able to remember it. I copied it from Wikipedia.

The Gameboy made Tetris quite something back in the day. I guess around the late 80's or so. The way I explain Tetris' monumental success is that it combines what most famous games have: simple rules and near infinite complexity. Games of this kind are: chess, poker, etc, with the added difference that Tetris can be - and usually is - played alone.




My family being in high demand of high-tech material to fill up the holes of its dysfunctional social fabric, we acquired no less than 3 Gameboys. And that was the beginning only; I'm not mentioning the subsequent new Gameboys that popped up with time. On holidays abroad, Tetris was big. Mostly because I guess everyone was discovering how bored we all were once packed in a little vacation house and had nothing else to do. This made Gameboys more vital than oil in the Mad Max movies, and equally worth fighting for.

I remember being a kid and watching my parents play Tetris. You have to know that my parents abandoned the videogame kingdom with the event of 3D. Things got too complicated for them at that stage, and that's a direct quote. So, when Tetris was their virtual pet, they would play a lot, especially my father. I was much impressed by the fact that he could make the rocket launch off into space. For those who are unaware of it, Tetris rewards you with that unequivocal scene once you beat 100'000 points in your final score. That's known as "making the rocket launch". My father could do it. I couldn't. I remember asking him how much was needed to do the deed, and he said a number that made it look singularly impossible to me.

About a decade later and more, I was back on Tetris. Teased by some cheap versions online, I decided to go hunting for the old and ancient artifacts of my family history that are those Gameboys, and possibly a copy of the game Tetris, which we had many times (they were sold with the Gameboys). After going through several species of Gameboys, from the old original one without a lid for the batteries to the pink and Pokemon-sticker-studded version of it to the one I eventually managed to make work: the Gameboy Advance, I think. That version is neat; but there is one major flaw to it. The screen is much too much reflective of light, and thus, blinds you unless you hold your Gameboy at exactly the one and only angle which allows vision.


Online, I was somehow upset at the insane results other people had. I'd make 43'000 points and the 300th player on the list had 233'000, while the first had over 60 million points. I cannot fathom how you get such scores. And I remembered the old rocket from my childhood, which my father could launch and which I couldn't. If you're Freudian, don't think I don't see you coming. Father and son subtle conflict involving the massive phallic symbol that is a rocket, and all of this focused on making it launch. Now back off.

So, last night, in my bed, I was firmly decided to try my best at the damn Tetris. Introducing the age-old game whose very cover was lost in time and oblivion into the Gameboy Advance, I experienced a rapture. Kidding. But it was fun to hear those cheap electronic sounds again, and those Russian melodies. That was something original about Tetris, the music. Even as a kid, you could tell this soundtrack wasn't from around here. Add to that the Russian looking buildings on the opening screen of the game, and you have a handful of exotism. Then I played. I played for a long time. I'd alternate with a book; I'd read 30 pages, then play, then read again, etc. Eventually, after much perseverance, I reached the score of 140'000. I had no idea what was required to get the rocketship to fly. So when I eventually lost, I got to hear this fine melody which signified to me that I had made it! Then I saw the rocket, about to launch. And it did!!! I had made it! I had succeeded where I had always failed as a child. I made the fucking rocket fly into the air. Boy I was proud of myself.

I must say that after seeing those crazy scores, and remembering that my own dad had good scores; I felt somewhat Tetris-handicapped. That made me decide to take on this silly challenge. And it worked! I love silly challenges: they give you pride of the non-vain kind. You're proud but it's still Tetris...


The really big question about Tetris is this: why the rocket. Why the rocket? Has that anything do with the space conquest? A reminder that a Russian was the first man to ever be in space? You must know that the bigger score you get, the bigger the rockets get; a fact I was unaware of until I watched this insane YouTube video where a dude gets the maximum score available on the game. His rocket was huge. Oh yes, quite the rocket he had. Freudians back off, we warned you already. Next time I won't be handing peanuts to you, so be nice.

Tetris rewards you with scenes of rockets launching into space. That has to be surrealism number one on the videogame list of interesting connections which don't make sense even after numerous hypotheses. I woke my brothers up with the sound of "I MADE THE ROCKET LAUNCH!" They sure were happy for me. [That last bit is fiction, I didn't wake up anyone.]



2 comments:

nakamura_michiyo said...

hahaha I don't think I ever came close to making the rocket launch... I didn't even know there was such a thing. That being said, I really enjoyed this post of yours, I didn't know you had all those gameboys lying around! You're gonna make a gameboy museum someday!

emil szarvas said...

"Lookit my big rocket!" I died laughing at that one too.
You must have had quite an interesting childhood. I can't say much about myself growing up, considering that I was born in 1988, and that I spent some of my early childhood living in New Jersey. I didn't have video games, I had television. I grew up watching Nickelodeon, The Discovery Channel, and The Learning Channel. Unsolved Mysteries and The X-Files when it debuted in '93, once a week.