The physics of Tetris

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It wasn’t until 1989 that I first encountered what I identified as a puzzle game: Adventures of Lolo on the 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System. That was the same year as the release of the Nintendo Game Boy, whose pack-in title, Tetris, was a far more common introduction to the genre for most American gamers. And it was this game that the legendary Steve Wozniak became a master of, to the point of his high scores being printed in Nintendo Power magazine.

Though it was Nintendo’s handheld system that popularized the Russian puzzler, the software had already been making the rounds on various computer platforms. In 1988, Spectrum Holobyte (1983–1998) released the Apple II version, which actually came on three disks, one for each operating system: DOS 3.3, ProDOS, and GS/OS. No matter what version you played or what system you played it on, Tetris was an addictive experience, due in part to a variety of subtle yet effective psychological qualities that perfectly complement humans’ natural capabilities and limitations. Not only did gamers start seeing tetrads everywhere they looked, but the game had actual, physiological, positive impact on the human brain.

A game with so many scientific implications cries out for further study and applications. Software developer Maurice Guegan has answered that call with a fascinating and hilarious variation that he has dubbed Not Tetris. The game, a free download for Windows (and, when paired with a utility called LÖVE, for Mac and Linux), applies some degree of real-world physics to the falling blocks. Not only does this newfound inertia make it more difficult to rotate the pieces, but gravity makes it nearly impossible to form complete lines. In fact, Guegan has completely disabled that functionality, replacing it with a new goal of seeing how many game pieces you can stack before the inevitable game over.

Having a hard time visualizing this new spin on the classic formula? Here’s some gameplay footage.

Not Tetris is worth a play for its original and innovative take on Tetris. For more standard gameplay, the GNO Apple II Archive has entire folders in both its Apple II and Apple IIGS games directories dedicated to Tetris clones, including Dreamworld’s most excellent two-player DuelTris.

If that’s not quite retro enough for you, check out Tetris creator Alexey Pajitnov’s original Tetris. For more about Tetris’s tangled history, see the chapter “From Russia With Love” in David Sheff’s excellent history of Nintendo, Game Over: Press Start to Continue.

(Hat tip to Nintendo Life: Retro)