With over 500 million copies sold, Tetris is one of the most successful and beloved video game franchises ever. The game was even recently adapted into a seemingly unlikely movie that tells the equally unlikely story of its origins. Of course, Tetris’ lifetime sales numbers are bolstered by the numerous spin-offs and reimaginings of the original game that are still being made and enjoyed today. 2018’s Tetris Effect even managed to grab a few Game of the Year awards en route to becoming a best-seller, which is really a testament to both the creative power and sales success of this truly remarkable franchise.
Yet Tetris is unlike most other modern entertainment franchises in many ways. These days, anything that is even remotely successful is practically guaranteed to get an immediate sequel that ideally retains as much of the original’s creative team as possible. The inevitability of such projects makes it that much more incredible to realize that Tetris creator Alexey Pajitnov never simply made a game called “Tetris 2.”
Pajitnov contributed to some future Tetris spin-offs and worked on other games that followed the basic Tetris formula (like Hatris and Welltris), but those games didn’t come close to replicating Tetris‘ success. In 2012, IGN even named him one of gaming’s greatest “one-hit wonders.” A bit cruel, perhaps, though that suggestion does raise some interesting questions. Why wouldn’t Pajitnov work on a direct sequel to such a successful game, especially since he reportedly lost out on millions of dollars worth of revenue during the time when the USSR controlled the rights to Tetris?
Well, according to Pajitnov, the most obvious sequel in the history of video games never really seemed that obvious to him.
“I didn’t really think about a Tetris sequel,” Pajitnov says in an interview with Den of Geek. “My thought as a game designer was that Tetris was a complete game and that there was no need for any serious extensions… I understood that there was no point in going there. It just spoiled the pleasure.”
While that is an incredibly noble and commendable answer that will undoubtedly uplift the creative spirits of artists everywhere, Pajitnov’s long-time friend and business partner, Henk Rogers, has a slightly different perspective on that story.
“That’s a game designer’s answer,” Rogers jokes. “I was a publisher at the time, and I remember…maybe the first night or the second night we were together, I asked Alexey about what Tetris 2 would look like. When you make a good movie, you make a sequel. Same thing with Tetris.”
Of course, while Pajitnov never worked on such a direct Tetris sequel, Rogers says he still considers the game’s many spin-offs, reboots, and thematic reimaginings to be sequels of a kind. In 1993, Rogers even helped publish an often-forgotten title named Tetris 2 (which Pajitnov was not creatively involved with) that made numerous changes to the Tetris formula. In a way, though, those games showed Rogers that Pajitnov was right. It turns out that it’s pretty hard to improve upon what Tetris got right the first time around.
“I did publish Tetris 2, but then I thought, ‘What am I going to add to this game?’ It’s perfect,” Rogers says. “It’s tough, because that game is so pure and so clean. When we license Tetris, we always tell the licensees, ‘Go back and look at the original and then start adding stuff.’ Don’t start out in la la land. Understand the core fun of that game and then make your game.”
Of course, just because Pajitnov never designed a slightly more traditional sequel to Tetris doesn’t mean that he hasn’t spent time thinking about what the future of the franchise looks like. Actually, he’s done quite a lot of that over the last 30 years or so as the co-founder of the Tetris Company. He even has some favorite Tetris spin-offs and a few thoughts about what Tetris games still have left to accomplish.
“I still play Tetris from time to time because we need to check the new versions that come out,” Pajitnov says. “The most excited I’ve been about a Tetris game recently was [the battle royale multiplayer game] Tetris 99. It’s such a great version. I hope to see more breakthroughs with Tetris in the future as well. I really want to see an outrageously good two-player version of the game that emphasizes communication, which, in my opinion, hasn’t been done yet. I imagine artificial intelligence will eventually add something to my small game as well.”
Tetris, the movie, is streaming now on Apple TV+.