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How Nintendo Got the Best Version of Tetris – Feature

Ed Logg knew a thing or two about the lines. He had co-created Astrodes Atari, a game where players have piloted a ship and exploded the namesake space rocks into smaller and smaller pieces. Released in 1979, Asteroids was in black and white, but the animation was fluid and fluid thanks to raster graphics, a technique that made graphics from lines.

But the game he was watching was beyond anything he had ever seen. On the monitor of an Atari ST, segmented lines of different shapes – an appropriate L, a mirrored L, a more shaped block, a straight line that could be reversed horizontally or vertically – were raining from the sky in piles at the bottom . There was no one in charge. It was an automated demo, what arcade developers called an attractive mode.

While Logg was watching, the AI ??guided the lines to fill the gaps in the stack. The lines could be reversed to face different directions as they fell, like puzzle pieces adjusted to fit their spaces. When the blocks formed a horizontal line, they flashed and disappeared, and the score increased. Logg hit a key and started playing. With each block he released and each line he filled, his dependence increased. It was a puzzle, almost mathematical in its precise execution. Blocks fell and he had to maneuver them to form horizontal lines as quickly as possible before the screen filled up.

Ed Logg during his Atari stay Ed loggEd Logg during his Atari stay

Logg went to find a manager. This game, Tetris, could be the next big thing on home consoles, and he'd be the one to write it.

Curiosity guided Logg to the computers. In high school, he enrolled in programming classes as a way to learn what made the machines run. Programming fed the part of his brain that was addicted to problem solving. After studying computer science at university, he was hired by Control Data Corp, where he wrote a little about this and that: games, Snoopy calendars, printable illustrations. "I made conversions from the original Adventure and Star trek between CDC Fortran and IBM Fortran, he said. "So even though I was paid to support CDC software, I often played parallel games."

Logg discovered Adventure, Atari programmer Warren Robinett, in which players controlled a square and explored simple dungeons and caves, during a Christmas party where someone had brought a prototype of the Atari game console Video Computer System (2600). The following year, he built his own computer and wrote games for him. The games remained a hobby until a friend from the CDC found an Atari job, which stood opposite the offices of the CDC. His friend encouraged him to apply and he was hired in February 1978.

Logg worked in a group led by Dave Stubben, a known engineer on the team for what the rest of Atari called the Stubben test. A monster of a man weighing about 350 pounds, Stubben was beating, bending, twisting and running hands on material to test its durability. Logg's first project was to complete avalanche, a game based on reflexes where players have caught stones by falling rows at the top of the screen down. The game was started by Dennis Koble before moving to the consumer division to write games for the 2600. After Avalanche, Logg entered another Koble title, Moto cross, but it failed at the Atari field test – putting a cabinet in the wild to see how the players responded – and did not go into production.

Logg made its way when, in 1978, he answered the call from Atari co-founder Nolan Bushnell for a larger version of break out. The game Logg has dubbed Super Breakout, built a bridge between Atari's past and its future. Super Breakout hit the arcades in 1976 and became Logg's first commercial hit. He took his lan when designer Lyle Rains proposed to team up to write a space game like Space invaders, but with ships and astrodes that could move in all directions. This game has become Asteroids.

Calm before the storm

Things were going well for Logg, but gloomy looks for Atari Nolan Bushnell. The co-founder of Atari had sold Warner Communication in 1976, a decision he admitted to being "stupid" in retrospect, and resulted from his inability to grasp the machinations of Wall Street. To consolidate the wild culture of the company, Warner called on Ray Kassar, a professional in the textile industry, as a consultant. Kassar remembered wearing a suit the first day to be greeted by Bushnell wearing a t-shirt with 'I love to f ** k' printed on the front. At a meeting later the same day, Bushnell interrupted the process to offer Kassar a cannabis joint. It was, continued Kassar, only the tip of the iceberg of free-wheeling drug use within the company. He immediately left the meeting. Smoking pot did not bother him. It was California; everyone is enlightened. He was annoyed by the fact that they turned on at work.

At the end of 1978, following an argument with Emanuel "Manny" Gerard, the leader of Warner who had pushed his bosses to acquire Atari, Bushnell was dismissed by Warner. (Bushnell said the decision was made in his account of the incident and that he decided to leave at about the same time as Warner attempted to fire him.)

The astrodes were Logg's success for AtariThe astrodes were Logg's success for Atari

Kassar was not sad to see him leave. Atari could not operate at maximum efficiency with two bosses. Now firmly in charge, Kassar called to throw the full weight of Atari behind the aging 2600 console, which Bushnell had wanted to graze. It has swept away the clutter and chaos of the relaxed corporate culture and replaced it with a culture rooted in order and efficiency. Instead of advertising its games only during Christmas, Kassar worked with marketing to promote the Atari brand all year round. Under his leadership, sales of Atari, Inc. exploded from $ 75 million in 1977 to $ 2.1 billion in 1980. Shareholders were delighted. The programmers were less enthusiastic. They still did not receive public credit for their work and had to resort to the burial of Easter eggs in their games. It seemed more like a small business atmosphere, except that Time Warner owned us back then, Logg remembers. There was certainly less management at the start than after.

In 1979, after programmer David Crane and others complained about the unfairness of compensation, the marketing department wrote a memo describing the most successful cartridge games. The purpose of the note was to alert programmers to the most popular types of software for consumers so that they can pivot to write more games in this vein. Crane and several others interpreted the mmo differently: there, in black and white, were the sales statistics for each game they had created. For them, it was proof that they were precious. In fact, Crane discovered that the games he had programmed alone had generated over twenty million dollars in revenue. So why did he work overtime every week with a salary of $ 20,000?

Another programmer, Alan Miller, presented Kassar and other executives with a compensation plan that would give programmers credits and royalties on their software. When management shot them down, Miller, along with Crane, Bob Whitehead and Larry Kaplan decided to leave. Their cohort had made Atari over $ 60 million, and went directly to Kassar to inform him as much. According to Crane, Kassar told them that they were no more important than the assembly line workers who dropped the cartridges in boxes.

The Gang of Four, as they became known, moved away from Atari and thoroughly Activision, the first third-party publisher to exit games for material that another company had manufactured, in 1979. Activision, Crane continued to develop titles, including Freelance, an action platform game that became the second best-selling game on the 2600, after Tod Frye's Pac-Man conversion.

After the 1983 crash, Logg helped Atari's arch arm recover with hits like GauntletAfter the 1983 crash, Logg helped Atari's arch arm recover with hits like Gauntlet

Atari and Activision quickly found themselves on common ground in 1983, when the video game market in North America collapsed under its own weight. Atari's heavy involvement in the gaming industry caused Warner to lose $ 425 million, leading the communications company to sell PC and consumer divisions to computer mogul Jack Tramiel for a song. Tramiel renamed its acquisition as Atari Corp., while the arcade division continued as Atari Games under the auspices of Warner.

through turbulence, Logg continued to pump games. One of his greatest successes was that of 1985 Glove, a dungeon-crawl where up to four players have pirated and made their way through labyrinths displayed in a top-down perspective. Gauntlet was successful, but on a different scale from previous games due to the aftermath of the stock market crash. More than 7,800 Gauntlet cabinets were sold in 1985, but that was far from the 70,000 Asteroids machines in service worldwide, making it the most lucrative coin of Atari and the seventh coin video game most profitable currency of all time. .

Logg, an employee of Atari Games, quickly gained a clear understanding of the extent of the company's demerger. I had made a version of Centipede for the NES around 1986 when we learned that it was not clear if we could release our own titles in the consumer group, he said. Logg partnered with engineer Atari Dona Bailey to co-design Centipede, a shooter in which players open fire on a gigantic centipede as it makes its way onto the screen in 1981. So we had to (ask) the other company to find out what we could do. The result was that we no longer had playful titles created before the split in 1985, so I couldn't release my version of Centipede.

Namco sold Atari Games Atari Corp. in 1985, but there was another obstacle on the way to the liberation of the home ports of Atari games. Nintendo was credited with resuscitating the North American games market alone that Atari was somewhat responsible for the death. Recognizing that a lack of software quality control had been one of Atari's shortcomings, Nintendo, building on the success of the NES, would have almost total control over who could create NES games, how much, and how often. "Pain in the ass is a gentle way of saying it," said Logg. "Think anti-trust."

The designers of Atari went from furious to cautiously optimistic when they exploited a loophole in the publisher-developer contract for Nintendo. Under its draconian conditions, Nintendo has allowed NES software developers not to publish more than five titles a year, a form of quality control to ensure that the market is not inundated with inferior games. Atari Games wanted to break away from the coin-op. To do this, it would have to form a clean consumption division, separate from Atari Corp. He chose the name Tengen, Japanese for the central part of the strategy game Gos board. Other publishers have exploited the same flaw to produce more NES titles, such as Contra and Castlevania Konami studio establishing Ultra Games as a notch company that launched titles such as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Metal gear.

Nintendo has authorized Tengen to publish games on NES. The two entities coexisted until 1988, when Tetris tore them apart for good.

From Russia with pleasure

Soviet researchers Alexey Pajitnov and Dmitry Pavlovsky knew that all the work and no games were doing for the boring scientists. Employed at the Computer Center of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Pavlovsky noticed that Gerasimov, 16, was writing an encryption program for Microsoft's command line DOS operating system. They started chatting and Pavlovsky said he liked to write games in his spare time and introduced Gerasimov Pajitnov. The trio decided to write their own game on computer, Gerasimov taking the point as a programmer and graphic designer. They got caught up in converting some of Pavlovsky's old projects and dreamed of selling a collection of their work, which they called a computer fair.

A few weeks after the start of their working relationship, Pajitnov came to his friends with an idea. Some time ago he wrote a game called Genetic engineering in which the player moved pieces of four squares, called ttraminos, in groups. Gerasimov thought the game sounded like a boredom, until Pajitnov thought about how he thought he would improve it. The ttraminos would fall from the top of the screen into an enclosure similar to a glass jar and would pile up less than the player would combine them to form horizontal lines, causing them to disappear. Excited, the three friends widened the idea so that two players can challenge each other to see who could erase the lines faster. They called their game Tetris.

The Logg version of Tetris has added features not present in other versionsThe Logg version of Tetris has added features not present in other versions

Although thrilled by their creation, the trio couldn't just drop floppy disks in a Ziploc bag – common packaging in the days before colorful boxes – and sell it in stores. They lived in a communist country, which means that Tetris belonged to the state, not its creators. Instead, they downloaded it to a network, where it spread to computers. Robert Stein, president of the editor Mirrorsoft, got wind of it and approached Pajitnov with a global distribution offer for Tetris. Stein obtained the publishing rights and entrusted them to Spectrum HoloByte, where engineer John Jones-Steele converted it to Atari ST.

It was then that Ed Logg discovered it. Seduced by the easy nature to take care of Tetris, too addictive to quit smoking, he went to see Robert Stein and negotiated the distribution rights for Atari Games. According to their agreement, Atari Games would bring the game to the arcades, while Logg would develop an NES port under the Tengen label. "I thought it was better for the home market because of the possibility of endless play," said Logg. I asked our management to obtain the license for the domestic market, which they did via a sublicence via two parties. It turned out later that the contract was not very solid and that the parties were not the most trustworthy.

Logg launched the project by writing Tetris for Nintendo's 8-bit Famicom. I finished a version for the Consumer Electronics Show before the start of the game. When someone wanted it for the coin market, another team took over, he said.

Just when Logg was ready to start, Nintendo raised another roadblock. According to the manufacturer, there was a shortage of ROM chips containing code for NES cartridge games. In order to meet demand, Nintendo would determine which companies would receive cartridges and how many. Tired, the engineers at Tengen have decided to reverse engineer the locking chip, a small piece on each NES cartridge intended to prevent hackers from pirating software. They called their modification the Rabbit chip.

Logg discovered the project when he entered Tengen's laboratory and asked the three engineers huddled around a table full of equipment what they were preparing. One of them looked up and said, "Don't ask.

Meanwhile, Logg continued to convert from Tetris. He didn't use any code that Pajitnov and the other Russian engineers had written, designing a replica of the appearance by playing the game on a PC and routing it with his own code. The basic logic, dropping the pieces, was fairly easy to implement. In a few weeks, his game looked smoother and was easier to play than the original. Logg focused on expanding what the Tetris creators had built, adding a competitive multiplayer mode as well as a cooperative play style where two players worked together to clear the lines. Another improvement was to gradually increase the speed of the blocks falling over time, a more subtle and fluid method than Pajitnov's jumps in terms of stimulation. While the ttraminos from the original game were each made of a solid block painted in one color, the Logg were in black and white at the start.

Nintendo's own version of Tetris is considered to be lower than that of LoggNintendo's own version of Tetris is considered to be lower than that of Logg

"The first version of CES in January was probably more mono-chromatic," he recalls. Before the Consumer Electronics Show in June, he added colors and applied textures that gave each piece a segmented 3D appearance. When Atari programmers were ready to develop an arcade cabinet for Tetris, Logg provided its code as a basis. The reverse process marked one of the few examples where the console version of a game influenced arcade equipment.

After three years of work between the NES and arcade adaptations, Tengen sent its NES version of Tetris Nintendo for approval in the spring of 1989. Once again, Nintendo took the brakes, this time ordering a pitifully small amount of cartridges.

Behind the scenes, company officers were working on locking Tetris. In March, Henk Rogers, responsible for Bullet-Proof Software, traveled to Moscow and met with bureaucrats to discuss licenses. The bureaucrats were happy to listen. They were aware of the growing popularity of Tetris and were keen to make money from the work accomplished by its creators. to their amazement, Rogers offered five million in exchange for the rights on all the console and mobile terminal adaptations, a proposal much higher than expected. Rogers overthrew them again, promising Nintendo that the glove of the Japanese game would make the difference if their royalties did not reach the five million mark.

The rights to Tetris were roughly divided like a holiday pie. Nintendo signed the paperwork giving it global rights (except in Japan) on Tetris on March 22, 1989. Mirrorsoft claimed Europe and, through its Spectrum HoloByte division, North America. Atari Games has retained the release rights for its arcade version, and Bullet-Proof has allowed Nintendo to consolidate a portable version of Tetris with his Game Boy, which should be released later this year.

When two tribes go to war

Nintendo of America's legal counsel, Howard Lincoln, wrote and submitted a termination letter to Tengen on March 31, stating that his company had obtained all console rights. If Atari did not withdraw its version developed by Tengen de Tetris for NES, the two companies would settle the case in court. Total war followed, but the two companies fired earlier.

In December 1988, Atari filed a lawsuit accusing Nintendo of the company's monopoly chip-centric practices. The same day, Atari Games announced that Tengen would publish games without going through the appropriate channels established by Nintendo. There were three, Pac-Man, R.B.I. Baseball, and Gauntlet, with more on the way. Tetris would be the tip of this spear.

Nintendo could not allow Atari to sell unlicensed software for NES. Its leaders believed that its policies were the barrage which retained a flood of poor software which would definitively kill the market of North American game. More precisely, Nintendo wanted control. The company reacted by delivering a one-two punch. First, he sued Atari for patent infringement on February 2, 1989. At the same time, he threatened the retailers: anyone transporting unlicensed game software for Nintendo equipment would suddenly find that their well of Nintendo products had dried up. The retailers capitulated. They did not have a choice. Nintendo was hot, and they would rather lose some Atari and Tengen games than their relationship with Nintendo.

Logg (left) Tetris launch party from Tengen Ed loggLogg (left) Tetris launch party from Tengen

Other software manufacturers in North America sympathize with Atari. Nintendo's practices were draconian, but the fact was that they depended on Nintendo for money. Atari sued again, claiming $ 250 million in damages from Nintendo.

The war raged until May 17, 1989, when Tengen, true to his word, released Tetris for NES. Not that anyone can find it. Few stores have had the guts to stock it, and Nintendo doubled down by putting on another suit eight days later. The two companies now accused the other of infringing its rights to develop Tetris for consoles.

In June, Nintendo struck a blow when a federal judge ruled in its favor, declaring that Tengen and Atari were prohibited from selling any domestic version of Tetris, and recalled all unsold cartridges. The executives of Atari and Tengen estimated that around 50,000 copies of the game had been sold. Hundreds of thousands of people have been returned. Although Tengen continued to develop games – naturally throwing its weight behind the Sega hardware, which rose to challenge Nintendo's take on the console market – Ed Logg was devastated. He fell in love with his version of Tetris after working tirelessly for three years, only so that a figurative grasp of consumers could enjoy it.

Heartbroken is a good summary. It was so much better than the version that Nintendo made, "he said. Critics and gamers generally agreed. Although the addictive simplicity of the Game Boy port – and Nintendo's NES edition would be released – NES version of Logg offered richer features and game modes than Nintendo releases on the market.

I was glad I started working in the consumer sector. I am very sure that my first efforts, Centipede and Tetris, were not made public, said Logg. His awareness of supporting his work boosted his morale and justified his work. To confirm this, many years later, when I worked for another company and we wanted to make a Tetris version on our platform, our management went Blue Planet, I believe, who held the rights to Tetris at the time. . During the discussion, they pointed out that the best version they had ever seen was the version behind them. It was the Tengen version of Tetris.

This feature appears in its entirety in David L. Craddock's book Arcade Perfect: How Pac-Man, Mortal Kombat, and Other Coin-Op Classics Invaded the Living Room, available now on Amazon.