Archive for the ‘Tetris’ Category

Deconstructing Tetris

Monday, December 14th, 2015

Elements of Tetris

Tetris is so simple, you might (mistakenly) think it’s the simplest possible version of itself. (The original gameboy Tetris, not whatever feature-laden version happens to have been released this year.) It’s fairly easy to make a list of the various “elements” that go into Tetris. (I’ve always called these mechanics, although someone online recently pointed out mechanisms might be more appropriate.)

– Blocks made out of 4-squares (tetrominos)
– A column-shaped gameboard
– Gravity, the tetrominos move from the top of the screen to the bottom, where they stick in place
– Line clear when a row of blocks is completely filled
– a score counter that increments when lines are cleared

Sure, there’s probably some other stuff in there, but at a very high level, I think these are the most interesting elements. The last few months I’ve spent a lot of time playing a few different games that I think basically fall into a new “branch” of the Tetris family tree. One where the main difference is that they’ve replaced the block-falling gravity with free-form block placement. Turns out, this makes for a bunch of interesting games!


I guess I probably saw Hex FRVR first, back in October, when it hit my “Tetris” google alert, and then shortly thereafter as my Twitter feed exploded with it a bit. I think there were probably just as many people impressed that the mobile web app (the game is fully playable on its website) functioned as well as the mobile app as there were folks commenting on the game itself. Although plenty of folks did comment on how easy it was to get sucked into it. I got pretty hooked, and was still playing it in November when I went to Practice.


Over thanksgiving, only a few weeks later, my brother Dan introduced me to 1010!, which evidently he and his girlfriend have been playing for a while now. I hadn’t seen it before, but I guess that’s not terribly surprising given that about 500 games come out every day on iOS. Looks like it first came out September 2014, for iOS anyway, and it’s been successful enough that they’ve released 1010! World, which is basically the same game broken up into finite levels and put on a map like many of the big puzzle games do nowadays. (Candy Crush etc.)

1010!, played on a square grid, does that mechanic swap I mentioned, bye-bye gravity, hello touch-and-drag, but there are some other pretty major differences too.

It’s played on a ten-by-ten sized game grid, and I’m assuming that’s where the name comes from. 1010! also does away with having a single available piece, and showing you the order of the upcoming ones. Instead you have three available pieces, and see nothing further until you play the last of them. In fact, most of the strategy in the game comes from effectively using the three you are given together to clear some of the board before the next three.

Always Be Clearing

But if 1010! were just giving you tetrominos, it would probably be too easy. I’m guessing I could play indefinitely unless something more was changed, which it is. (In fact, it’s worth noting that 1010! doesn’t include the J, L, Z, or N pieces at all.)

So to balance the game toward ending, it throws in blocks of the following (important) sizes: 1×5, and 3×3. Sure, you can lose from the other block sizes if you’re not careful, but mainly, it’s going to be one of these two that you will inevitably not be able to fit onto the gameboard, thus ending the game.

I think it’s this balance (when to throw you “hard” pieces, and what percent of the time to just give you the basics) that makes both 1010! and Hex FRVR good games. They are both tuned to let you play for a bit, but then stump you not that long after. Playing for a while feels like an accomplishment, the classic “high score high”. Whether the games give you essentially random pieces, or just the illusion of random pieces, I cannot say, but just as in Tetris, you can easily talk yourself into believing the game is not random. Maybe it’s giving you this piece just when it knows it’s impossible for you to play it.

Everything is a Remix

It’s no secret that a lot of my game ideas are also inspired by Tetris.

The quote, “Good artists copy, great artists steal.” evidently goes back quite a bit further than T.S. Elliot. I very much subscribe to the thought that everything is a remix.

Right now I’m working on a port of my first game (playable on this site) to iOS. It’ll be called Action Go, and will play like the web counterpart, but look a whole lot better. The entire inspiration for that game was, “What if I removed line-clearing, and replaced it with the capture mechanism from the board game go?” I’m not planning on removing the web version, but the new one adds a lot of stuff, so I hope it’ll find a following on iOS and Apple TV when it comes out early 2016.

PS, It’s all been done

By the way, I have no idea if the Hex FRVR folks know about 1010!. But it’s a pretty fair assumption that they do. After I spent some time thinking about this, I realized I could whip out a triangle-based game with similar mechanics in very short order. A quick search later, and I’d found Tringles, which does exactly that. (Good thing I didn’t waste any time prototyping!)

It’s easy to see though, that there are nearly infinite ways you could take just a simple game and swap out one mechanic, (and adding a few more where it makes sense after that) to get a whole new game. Or hell, a whole new genre of games.

P.P.S. Crash

If anyone who works on 1010! read this, know that the app is crashing for me on my 6s+ like every 2 minutes. I don’t think it was doing this until the recent 9.2 update. Please fix it. I have an addiction to manage.

Tetris hardware hacking

Thursday, January 22nd, 2015

It’s been a while since I’ve posted any Tetris stuff on here, and I ran into some interesting hardware implementations today that reminded me I hadn’t posted about L3D Tetris yet. So…

L3D Tetris

Last week at the bar after our monthly igdatc meeting, I was showing off the L3D, and took this vine of CubeTube user hape’s L3D Tetris. (Shortly thereafter, the official CubeTube youtube channel also posted a much better/longer video of it in action.)

Frankly, this existing was a load off, since I had already said I was going to write Tetris for the L3D. Now that I don’t have to, I’m focusing on some more original game designs. I should have one I’m calling Match-L3D playable later today. (Though I’ve been saying that for a few days, and I spent most of this morning cleaning up code I wrote last night when it was too late for me to have been realistically coding.)

My impression of actually playing it was basically that there are far more satisfying 3D tetris implementations, unfortunately. It’s just plain HARD, and can be really difficult to “line up” the pieces, especially the farther into the cube you’re looking. The L3D has a pretty serious problem with reflections off the plexiglass, and that didn’t really help with the playability either.


LED Tetrises

Over at the HackADay blog, they posted yesterday about user Alex’s Arduino Tetris on an LED Array. That one was pretty plain looking, (not to diminish Alex’s efforts, I’m sure he learned a lot putting the project together!) That post links to a previously posted project (shown above) called Breadboard Tetris, as well as another running on an oscilloscope. But their blog is actually a cornucopia of LED Tetris links! Many more are findable by searching their website, including Tetris wearables, like this LED tie, and a sweet looking arduino bracelet.

tetris_and_dinoIf you want to build your own LED Tetris, there is an instructable you can follow, (although comments imply it’s incomplete, so maybe you’ll have better luck with this other one). Anyway, hardware hacking is getting easier and easier all the time.

Many of these projects post their Tetris code, and it would be a fun exercise (though not one I’m about to undertake just now) analyziing how they all go about implementing the various challenges inherent in writing Tetris. (Piece rotation would probably be the most interesting to analyze, although 2D grid storage would also be worth comparing and contrasting.)

I’ll leave you with this custom LED Tetris project next to an inflatable dinosaur. It’s a tossup which one is a bigger waste of space. At least you can deflate the dino. ;)

Pebblis & Tetris on new hardware

Saturday, May 4th, 2013

pebble-watch-face-tetris-300x300So I finally got with the program and figured out how to load up watch faces and 3rd party software onto my pebble today. (It turns out you just need to open relevant files in Safari, and they are already associated with the Pebble app, which then syncs them to the device for you.)

Anyway, this of course meant that I could try out Pebblis, a version of Tetris created for the Pebble by Robert Hesse. As widely reported, Pebblis is nothing more than a Tetris clone you can play on your wristwatch, but if you’re not looking for anything fancy, it’ll definitely scratch that tetromino itch.

I haven’t yet mentioned on this blog that I got into Google’s Glass Explorer program. In case you’re not familiar, google is giving 8,000 people the chance to get their hands on Google Glass early (you still have to pay for it). They held a big contest on twitter and Google+ to pick who gets it, and I got in with this tweet: “#ifihadglass I would use OpenCV to find grid patterns in what you are seeing. Then allow you to play Tetris on them, of course.”

Unfortunately, now that the Glass API has been released, it doesn’t sound like AR tetris is really possible, at least with this 1st-gen device. (In fact, the AR capabilities will be quite limited, and that rather disappointing aspect of the hardware has not gotten much press, at least that I’ve seen.) I’m still excited to get my eyes on mine, and I’ll be exploring what games appear for it over at Games with Glass, a site I’ve started with my former co-worker Breon. Not much up over there yet, but then again, there’s really not much yet to report on either. I’ll be writing more about all this soon, for sure.

UPDATE: After much deliberation, I decided not to put in for my Google Glass. I didn’t have time to make something for it, and it was hard to justify as a business expense if that was the case. Additionally, I tried them out, and had a sort of “what’s the big deal?” feeling about them. I’ll be curious to see how the next few years shapes up for that product line. I think they’re going to be leapfrogged by tech that is maybe not quite as technically revolutionary, but delivers a more compelling experience. (Perhaps even tech originating from google or even the Glass project.)

Pumpkin Tetris

Tuesday, October 30th, 2012

Over the years I’ve seen a number of Tetris-themed halloween costumes, but this is a first for me! Some dude made Pumpktris (is that pronounceable?), which is to say, a playable version of Tetris in a Pumpkin. Follow the link, or check out the video below:

Action Puzzle Games

Wednesday, August 1st, 2012

I presented the following slides on Action Puzzle Games tonight at the MN Mobile Game Dev Group. I’m not sure the slides are really enough to convey the meaning, but most of this is really just a list of good Action Puzzle Games for iOS, and I said I’d post those, so here they are.

Action puzzle games from livingtech1

Special thanks to Jesper Juul, from whose amazing article (“Swap Adjacent Gems to Make Sets of Three: A History of Matching Tile Games”) I stole the Family Tree of matching tile games.

Ecstasy of Awesome

Tuesday, April 17th, 2012

I saw the movie Ecstacy Of Order: The Tetris Masters tonight, a documentary about the first “Classic Tetris World Championship” held in (I believe) 2010. Like Word Wars (2004, about Scrabble) and King of Kong (2007 about Donkey Kong) before it, we learn something about the lives of specific characters who take part in this tournament of experts, in this case expert game players of the classic (original) version of Tetris for the Nintendo Entertainment System. Also like it’s spiritual predecessors, the documentary mostly succeeds because of the intriguing nature of those characters.

I can’t really recommend this movie highly enough. It far outstripped my expectations, (which admittedly were pretty low), and actually made me want to evangelize the movie, as well as, of course, go home and play some Tetris.

Code for my iPhone Game Programming Talk

Sunday, May 15th, 2011

When I did the talk last week on iPhone Game Development, I showed some code at the end of the talk written using the Cocos2D framework. In both talks, the tetris portion of the demo was almost (but not quite) finished. I promised I’d post the code on github when it was finished, so here it is, my intro to iPhone Game Development sample project on github.

Tetris is playable, but this code is barely working, to be honest. I haven’t played with it on a device yet, and I know there are cases in the rotatePiece method that haven’t been tested. I’ve got the next piece in the game model, but not showing up in the view. I was going to use Sneaky Input for the controls, but I ended up scrapping it and just using some really simple touch-based control instead.

Someday (hopefully soon-ish), I’ll be writing a blog post titled “how to write tetris in Objective-C using Cocos2D”. I’ll try and clean it up a bit then.

A new Tetris Documentary

Friday, May 13th, 2011

Details on a new Tetris documentary called Ecstasy of Order are emerging. It is, according to the website, “a feature length documentary set for release in 2012 that captures the greatest world record Tetris players as they prepare for the Classic Tetris World Championship”. (Via Zack, who sent me this Joystiq post about it yesterday.)

This led me to wonder how many documentaries there have been about Tetris already. I thought I had viewed at least two of them, but some quick googling only comes up with Tetris: From Russia With Love, which was a BBC doc from 2004. It appears you can still watch it online. I particularly liked that one of the commenters on that site called it “a Web Filter Unit test”.

Table-top Tetris

Tuesday, February 15th, 2011

The idea of Tetris as a physical board game is not a new idea. (I have a small collection of them.) While visiting Kotaku tonight, I found an intriguing post about two new Tetris board games showcased at the Toy Fair 2011 in New York City.

First I’ll mention Tetris Link, a stand-up version of Tetris for up to four players. The gameplay here is not about breaking lines. You get one color, (and presumably all the shapes), and you try and connect up your pieces while preventing your opponents from doing the same. I’m not exactly blown away by the originality here, although I suppose none of the other Tetris board games have been all that ground breaking either, but at least this could have had a hint of strategy in it, if they hadn’t introduced a die that you use to determine which piece you get to drop. I mean, sure, I’d buy it just for the die with Tetris shapes on it, but do I want to play a game with that mechanic in it? Not really. Fortunately, I’m sure it won’t be too hard to make up some slightly more thought-provoking rules about when you get to drop what pieces.

Tetris Link won’t be hitting stores until sometime later this year, and it sounds like it’ll be exclusive to B&N before it hits shelves everywhere. I don’t know if I’ll even remember to look for it at B&N, so it could be quite a while before I get this one. Also, I pilfered the photo above from Tetris Link’s facebook page, where it looks like they had some giant Tetris pieces to play with, as illustrated by these Tetris booth babes. (There were a lot more photos like that one on Facebook. Shameless, or fun? You decide.) You can also register to win a copy from the Facebook page (at least for the next day or two).

This is the one I feel is a MUST HAVE (although, lets be honest here, I’m obviously a collector, and I’ll be getting them both). The game, which may or may not be called simply “Tetris the Card Game“, is apparently getting made by Fundex, the same folks who made five billion versions of Phase 10. Apologies for the bad video still, but I simply wasn’t able to find out much of anything about this game! I can’t wait to get my hands on a copy, and the video says they’re available now!!! Chances are that it’ll be in Target (based on the Phase 10 connection) and all over the place, but I’ll be damned if I can find it anywhere online tonight. When I get access to some actual product information, I’ll have to post it here (as well as at boardgamegeek, which is still unaware this product exists). This is appealing to me for a lot of reasons, but mainly because it looks kind of like a multiplayer puzzle mode for Tetris.

In my scouring the internet for the above card game, I eventually remembered to try the official Tetris site, where I’d forgotten they do occasionally post some pretty interesting Tetris related news items. Some quick links to things I missed in the last year or so since I’d been on there:

Visit the Kotaku post for videos of both of the new board/card games in action.

Google Logos

Thursday, December 23rd, 2010

I found out this morning that I missed this cool google logo last year for the 25th anniversary of Tetris.

It’s not quite as cool as when you could actually play pac man in their logo, but still, pretty cool.

As far as I can tell, they’ve never had a chess themed google logo.