This is the story behind the fiendishly addictive game, a tale of high stakes, intimidation and legal feuds set against the backdrop of Cold War tensions between East and West. Tetris is one of the few games that achieves ultimate popularity. It is remarkably simple, yet remarkably difficult. It's been ported to every computer and game console known to man, and has sold millions of cartridges, tapes, and disks across the land. Besides that, it also led to one of the most interesting legal battles in the history of video games, leading to the famed Tengen version of Tetris and to the downfall of a few companies. It's a pretty cool story, so let's get down to business. Hold on for a second while I set the time machine to cruise control..
Inspired by a pentominoes game he had bought earlier, Alexey Pazhitnov creates Tetris on an Electronica 60 at the Moscow Academy of Science's Computer Center. It is ported to the IBM PC by Vadim Gerasimov and starts spreading around Moscow. Pazhitnov gets a small degree of fame for his program.
The PC version makes its way to Budapest, Hungary, where it is ported to the Apple II and Commodore 64 by Hungarian programmers. These versions catch the eye of Robert Stein, president of the British software house Andromeda. He plans to get the rights to the PC version from Pazhitnov directly, and to get the other versions from the Hungarian programmers. Even before Stein gets in touch with Pazhitnov or the Academy, he sells all the rights to Tetris (except for arcade and handheld versions) to Mirrorsoft UK and its USA affiliate, Spectrum Holobyte, owned by Robert Maxwell's Pergamon Foundation.
Stein wires a contract for the rights to Tetris to the Academy. Although Pazhitnov would later say that he did not mean to give a firm go-ahead to the deal, Stein goes ahead and flies to Moscow to sign the contract. He returns empty-handed; the Russians made up for their lack of knowledge of the video game world with obstinance. Stein makes a plan to essentially steal Tetris, to claim it was invented by the Hungarian programmers.