Alexey Pajitnov (Tetris)

Жизнь, господа присяжные заседатели, — это сложная штука, но эта сложная штука открывается просто, как ящик. Надо только уметь его открыть. Кто не умеет, тот пропадает.
Остап Бендер

Alexey Leonidovich Pajitnov
Alexey Leonidovich Pajitnov playing Tetris on IBM PC

One of the most genius and popular computer games of all time, Tetris, was conceived by the Russian Alexey Pajitnov in 1984. Алексей Леонидович Пажитнов (Alexey Leonidovich Pajitnov) was born in 1955, in Moscow, Russia. After graduating from the Moscow Institute of Aviation, he was hired as a programmer at the Computing Center of the Soviet Academy of Sciences, a Soviet government-founded R&D center. Pajitnov worked in the field of artificial intelligence and speech recognition.

Pajitnov was interested in the field of computer games from the very beginning of his career and the Tetris was not the first game, he conceived. Initially, he created several psychology-related games. Sometime in 1984, he took to his workplace a puzzle game, just bought in the “Детский мир” for 35 kopeek (“World of Children” is a big children’s store in Moscow).

The first MS DOS version of Tetris
The first MS-DOS version of Tetris

The name of the game was Pentamino. It consisted of plastic 5-cube figures, just like those in Tetris. Pajitnov started to twiddle with the figures trying to imagine how to implement this game on computers. First, he decided to cut off a piece from the cubes, in order to simplify the shape of the figures and thus to accelerate the computer processing. Then he created a simpler computer game, called Genetic Engineering, in which the player had to move the 4-square pieces (called tetramino) around the screen using cursor keys. The player could assemble various shapes. The game however was not very successful.

The breakthrough came when Pajitnov decided to drop the figures in a rectangular glass and piling up at the bottom of the glass. Two weeks later, on 6 June 1984, the first version was ready, written in Pascal language for Electronica 60 (Электроника 60 was a Russian copy of DEC LSI-11 computer). The game occupied only 2.7 KB of storage memory. In the name of the game “Tetris” Pajitnov combined two words: the name of the original game—”tetramino” and his favorite sport—”tennis”.

The first MS DOS version of Tetris
The first MS-DOS version of Tetris

Pajitnov was assisted in the creation of Tetris initially by Dmitry Pavlovsky, his colleague from the Institute, and later by Vadim Gerasimov, a 16-year-old high school schoolboy, who worked and played with IBM PCs in the Computer Center. Gerasimov ported the game for the operating system MS-DOS of IBM PC (using Borland’s Turbo Pascal) and was in charge of graphical design.

Pajitnov, Pavlovsky, and Gerasimov created a team, planning to make some dozen addictive computer games for the PC and put them together in one system, called a Computer Funfair. They also dreamed about selling the games, but this part seemed unusual and difficult in the communist Soviet Union, where making and selling something privately was a dangerous affair.

The first Tetris ran in an MS-DOS text mode, using colored space symbols to represent squares of tetraminos. The game could even automatically recognize the IBM monochrome video card, adjusting the way it drew on the screen. The last version of the game was one of the first to use proper timer delays, in order not to run too fast on the newer and faster machines, which did almost all other games then.

Alexey Pajitnov and Vadim Gerasimov playing Tetris
Alexey Pajitnov and Vadim Gerasimov playing Tetris

When all efforts to sell the games failed, the group of Pajitnov decided to give friends free copies of all the games, including Tetris. Thus the games quickly spread around the country. When in 1986 the freely distributed PC version of Tetris got outside of the Soviet Union and a foreign company expressed an interest in licensing Tetris, Pajitnov decided to abandon all the games but Tetris, which made Pavlovsky very unhappy and destroyed the team.

After Tetris Pajitnov created a sequel, called Welltris, which has the same principle, but in a three-dimensional environment where the player sees the playing area from above.

Pajitnov moved to the United States in 1991 and later, in 1996, founded the Tetris Company. In the same year, he began working for Microsoft, where worked for the Microsoft Entertainment Pack: The Puzzle Collection, MSN Mind Aerobics, and MSN Games groups. He left Microsoft in 2005. In August 2005, WildSnake Software announced that Pajitnov would be collaborating with them to release a new line of puzzle games. In 1996, GameSpot named him the fourth most influential computer game developer of all time.

Biography of Alexey Pajitnov

Алексе́й Леони́дович Па́житнов
Алексе́й Леони́дович Па́житнов

Alexey Leonidovich Pajitnov (Алексей Леонидович Пажитнов) was born on 16 April 1955 (or 14 March 1956 according to other sources), in Moscow, Russia. His father was Леонид Николаевич Пажитнов (1930—1997), an art critic and philosopher, a son of the famous actor Николай Викторович Пажитнов (1907-1976). His mother was Ирина Ивановна Рубанова (born 1933), a journalist who used to write for both newspapers and a film magazine (Советский экран).

It was through his parents that Pajitnov gained exposure to the arts, eventually developing a passion for cinema. He accompanied his mother to many film screenings, including the Moscow Film Festival. Alexey was also mathematically inclined, enjoying puzzles and problem-solving.

Leonid and Irina divorced in 1967. For several years, Alexey lived with his mother in a one-bedroom apartment owned by the state. The two were eventually able to move into a private apartment at 49 Gertsen Str. when Pajitnov was 17. He graduated from Moscow Mathematical School Nr. 91 and later went on to study applied mathematics at the Moscow Aviation Institute.

In 1977, Alexey worked as a summer intern at the Soviet Academy of Sciences. Once he graduated in 1979, he accepted a job there working on speech recognition at the Academy’s Dorodnitsyn Computing Centre  When the Computing Centre received new equipment, its researchers would write a small program for it in order to test its computing capabilities, and this became his excuse for making games. Computer games were fascinating to Alexey because they offered a way to bridge the gap between logic and emotion, and he held interests in both mathematics and puzzles, as well as the psychology of computing. His first game, Muddled Casino, he developed in 1882.

Pajitnov, together with his friend and business partner (they founded a company in 1989) Владимир Похилько (Vladimir Pokhilko), moved to the United States in early 1991, followed by his family 6 months later.

Pajitnov married Нина Васильевна (born 25.08.1953), a translator from English, in 1981 and they had two sons: Пётр (Peter) (b. 1982), and Дмитрий (Dmitri) (11.4.1986-died 3 July 2017 as he was skiing down Mount Rainie). He lives in Clyde Hill, WA, together with his wife and son.

After the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine, Pajitnov issued a statement condemning the war that called Vladimir Putin a “soulless crazy dictator” and that “his hateful regime will fall down and the normal peaceful way of living will be restored in Ukraine and, hopefully in Russia”.