Tetris at 30

We’ve certainly come a long way in the development of computers and the software that runs on it.  Nothing hit the mark more for me than a download for my iPad last week.

From Electronic Arts, it was a special 30th anniversary version of Tetris.

Why did this particular application resonate with me?

Early in my teaching career, I had a small group of students who were very passionate about programming.  It didn’t matter what I threw at them, they found a solution and then added bells and whistles to really extend the program.  Nothing could stump them.  Well, maybe documentation…

They worked on their projects before school, at lunch time, and between dismissal and the time that the bus would leave.

To inspire their programming, I used to give them special assignments and things to learn.  One of these things was dabbling around in machine language code.  Right about that time, one of the students had a home Atari game and a version of the Tetris game on play on it.  They approached me about developing their own version of Tetris on the school computers and to try their best to do a faithful reproduction of the game.  The concept of open source and sharing was foreign at that time so it would have to be done by scratch.

I said yes thinking that this would keep them busy for a while. 

And it did.

I don’t recall now how long it took but I still have great memories of the three or four of them gathered around a computer shouting ideas, pointing at the screen, and looking up references in a technical manual that I had purchased for them from the mall.  I remember that they would go home to the Atari game and make notes about how it played, recorded all of the starting blocks, and making the rules of the game.  They eventually got a working version and they proudly showed it off to anyone who would look.  

For smoothness, it had to be written in machine languge – interpretive code wouldn’t work.  The actual controls were relatively simple.  They would just scan the keyboard for the left and right cursor arrows for movement, the down arrow to drop the block and the space bar to rotate it.  There were also things like keeping score, clearing a row, etc. to check for.  When it was all done, it was a much bigger project than what they had originally anticipated.  But, they did it.

Fast forward to today and the iPad game has modern features that really put it over the top.  Music, sounds, special powerups, social media integration, different levels, challenges, and so much more.  It only barely resembles the original game!  After all, you’re not controlling via a keyboard – your input on an iPad is limited to tapping on a screen.

It’s really an engaging implementation and enhancement to the original game.  If you poke around the internet, you’ll see that there are various online versions that let you relive the past.  Get your hands on this new version and you’ll realize that we’ve become so sophisticated over the past 30 years.

Happy Birthday, Tetris.

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