A brief exchange on Twitter yesterday got me wondering how the media covered Tetris back in the day before that game's release. I couldn't find a lot of previews of Tetris from the late '80s, but I did find a few.
They're terrific... and predominantly obsessed with the idea that Tetris, made in Russia, is a possible antidote to or at least an element of the Cold War tensions between the US and Soviet Union. At the time, America and the Russian empire were none too friendly. A Russian-made game coming to America? Big news.
Let's go back in time for some vintage Tetris impressions:
Reuters, via the Los Angeles Times, January 28, 1988 Headline: SOVIETS PLAY CAPITALIST GAME WITH NEW COMPUTER PUZZLE
The Soviet Union is launching its first commercial computer game in the West, an abstract puzzle called Tetris that a software specialists calls "horribly gripping" and predict will be a major success.
Tetris is played by one person who must quickly arrange a series of falling blocks into a horizontal line.
The player loses if the blocks fill the screen before being rearranged.
Tetris, which has nine difficulty levels, will be published in nine different computer systems worldwide within the next three weeks, starting with the IBM Personal Computer version that went on sale in Britain on Wednesday.
It will cost $US14 to $US35, and the Soviet Union will receive most of the profits in royalties.
The New York Times, January 29, 1988 Headline: New Software Game: It Comes From Soviet
As computer games go, it is simple and addictive. Critics say it lacks the guns and explosions and mayhem that appeal to young connoisseurs of American entertainment software, but then, Soviet software is apparently soft-line.
The new computer game, called Tetris, is believed to be the first Soviet-developed computer software to be sold in this country. According to officials of Spectrum Holobyte, the American company that will start distributing it today, Tetris was written on an International Business Machines PC by programmers at the Computer centre of the U.S.S.R. Academy of Sciences in Moscow. The introduction of Soviet software in the United States is an indication of the growing availability of relatively advanced personal computers in the Soviet Union. Although the United States Government officially restricts shipments of American computers to the Soviet Union, imported machines, including so-called 32-bit PC's such as the Apple Macintosh as well as ''home brew'' machines are increasingly common, travellers say.
Recent visitors to the Soviet Union say that in Moscow, at least, there is a growing community of what used to be known as ''hackers.''
''I got the feeling when I was there that somewhere there must be a Soviet Steve Jobs floating around,'' said Steve Morgenstern, a writer who spent six weeks in Moscow last year with a United States Information Agency exhibit of information technology. He was referring to the young founder and former chairman of Apple Computer Inc., a billion-dollar company that started in a garage in the Silicon Valley.
Players say [the game] is surprisingly addictive.
''This hasn't happened to me in years,'' said Paul Saffo, a research fellow at the Institute for the Future, a technology research centre in Menlo Park, Calif. ''I started playing it, and before long I was saying, 'just a little bit longer, just a little bit more time.' Before I knew it, two hours had passed.''
Mr. Stein, head of a company called Andromeda Software Ltd., discovered Tetris during a visit to a Hungarian company that develops software for Western computer companies.
The Chicago Tribune, June 10, 1988 Headline: GLASNOST REACHES COMPUTER GAMES, AND TETRIS IS TERRIFIC
Impressions from writer Dennis Lynch:
Remember the video game called Breakout, where the object was to destroy a series of walls made of bricks? In Tetris you also rack up points for making walls disappear, but first you have to build those walls. As variously shaped blocks drop from the top of your computer screen, you use cursor keys or a joystick to manoeuvre the blocks to fall into a similarly shaped space at the bottom. Whenever a row is completely filled it disappears, giving you more room to manoeuvre. The game continues until you run out of room to put the blocks.
Tetris is so simple to learn that you'll know all the rules five minutes after opening the box. But it's so intriguing to play that once you've started you'll be spending many hours in front of the computer screen-so many that you'll begin to wonder if Tetris isn't really part of a diabolical plot hatched in the Evil Empire to lower worker productivity in the United States.
The game is available from your local software dealer or can be ordered direct from Spectrum Holobyte by calling 415-522-3584. It's available for the Amiga, Atari ST, Commodore and the IBM PC and compatibles and costs between $US24.95 and $US34.95, depending on the machine.
Tetris is a classic game that should have a permanent place on your software shelf. It's a rare game with appeal for everyone, a Rubik's cube of software.
MacUser, July 1, 1988 Headline: Red Squares.
Impressions by writer Ben Templin:
It seems that glasnost works on the micro level, too. That's no areference to Marxian economics. Rather, the Russians are exchangingcomputer games in addition to other cultural offerings. Tetris, thefirst commercial program from the Soviet Uniton to reach the West, is being hailed as "the Rubik's Cube of software."
Tetris requires players to match up squares into a solid horizontal line as they descend from the top of the screen. Like all good eye-hand coordination games, the tempo increases as you progress. Each new screen has a different background, including views of Gorky Park and Red Square. The Mac version of Tetris will be marketed by Spectrum holoByte (2061 Challenger Drive, Alameda, CA 94501; (415) 522-3584).
Got all that? Go get Tetris. It's awesome.