July 18th, 2016 Sections: From an Expat, IT


I was somewhat taken aback the other day when I came home day to find Andy and some friends squating on the lfoor playing Nardi – Backgammon.

What’s more, they talked about wanting to play Chess.

Maxim is very fond of cards – but mainly the Russian game of Durak – Fool – a game I have never got the hang of.

I was surprised because I am so used to them playing computer games … shoot-em-up style … which is something else I have never really got the hang of.

As it happens, Maxim has downloaded n app for Durak and can be seen playing on his telephone and can often be seen sitting quietly on the coach cluthing his mobile phone … tapping and swiping the touch screen as another hand gets despatched.

Computer games are so ubiquitous in the modern world that it is hard to imagine just how far they have come in such a short space of time.

Topday happens to be the ‘birthday’ of one of the mosty successful computer games … created in 1985 and still around today , having been poted to all computer platforms – albeit in different guises – Tetris.

The first graphic computer game was called Pong … a ‘paddle game’ where the users controlled bats, moving them up and down bouncing a ‘ball’ from one side of the screen to another … knocking up points for every successful deflection.

It was defintely a sign of ‘things to come’ for those who had the imagingation and foresight to read the runes that were cast.

Within a weekend of the first ‘arcade machines’ carrying the game was put into venues, the developers were surprised to get a phone call complaining that they had broken down already.  When they investigated … they discovered the problem … the cash box which stored the coins paid for a game was jammed full.  It was easy the resolve the problem – by installing a bigger cash box.

That game is also still around today … having been ported across the complete gambit of computer onfigurations … albeit having undergone various transformations.


They are both, basically, simple games … a simple concept, with simple rules … but that makes them easy to learn and master … they proved attractive … and addictive, all of which added to the appeal their success.

Tetris is a little unusual in that it originated in the former Soviet Union.

The game was the brainchild of Alexey Pajitnov, a programmer working in the Computer Center of the Academy of Sciences, researching Artifical Intelligence, Computer Graphics and Speech Recognition.

pentominoesHe came across the idea of Pentominoes – a topic which had been made popular in recreational mathematics – yes, there is such a thing –  thanks to people like Martin Gardner who featured them in his regular column in Scientific American,  Pentominoes are shapes made up of five squares, (… like Dominoes, which have just two squares),  and, if we discount reflections and rotations, then there are twelve possible separate pentominoes…

Twelve individual shapes, each comprising five squares, makes a total of sixty squares in a complete set.

A standard puzle involved taking a complete set of pentominoes and arranging them into a rectangle with an area of 60 square units:

10 x 6,
12 x 5,
15 x 4, or
20 x 3

Pajitnov began working on representing pentominoes … but came across a few problems.

Computer graphics, for example, really were in their infancy at the time … and instead of even square blocks, different characters were used to make up the shapes …

One of the early computer games developed in the Soviet Union involved guiding a dog – a sobaka – around a maze – in much the same way that was done in the Pac Man game.

At that time there weren’t any computer graphics – only characters displayed on the screen.  The character used for the dog was the @ symbol … which, to this day, is referred to as sobachka when giving someone an email address … so: ian@mail.ru becomes ian sobachka mail dot ru.

Also, in order to implement the full set of pentominoes required a considerable amount of computung power … more than was generally available at the time.

tetris blocksTo overcome his problems he simplified the basic idea a little – instead of the twelve pentominoes, he limited himself to a set of seven quadrominoes … (he allowed a couple of reflections)  and instead of placing them into a static rectangular frame, he had them dropping from the sky into a well,typically 10 units wide and  20 units high.  The player move them from side to side, and rotate them as they are falling, in order to place them into the well in the most efficient manner possible.

In order to avoid the well from filling up too quickly and to prolong the game, each time a complete row is formed, it is removed, so only the incomplete rows are left.

An added difficulty, however, is that the speed of the falling tiles changes, increasing as the game progresses …

He chose the name Tetris from Tetra – the Greek for Four and Tennis – his favourite sport.

He gave all the rights from the game to the state, for a ten year period, and when thwey reverted back to him, he set up a compsnay which zealously protects those rights which is why many of the versions which can be downloaded as apps for mobile phones now have different names … but everyone still calls it Tetris.


The first computer version of the game actually appeared on June 6, 1984, but on 18th July, 1985, the first hand held electronic device for playing “Tetris” appeared in the Soviet Union … and quickly swept through country … and started its phenomenoal spead across the globe.

It was the first  example of entertainment software to be exported from the USSR to the US, and the wider world … and a sign of the burgeoning power of Soviet (Russian) programming power,

I has been declared the Greatest Game of All Time, and in 2010 it as announced that over 170 million copies had been sold / distributed.







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