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Creative Minds: Alexey Pajitnov

Feature: Tetris man talks death, puzzles and taxes

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Have you tried to create any games that were not puzzle-based?

Pajitnov: I have done several arcade games. Indeed, I think Tetris is more of an arcade game. I did a type of puzzle collection. I had a game in my records which I completely failed with, an action game. We were a small company and the game was called Ice & Fire. It was an original game but id not do so well [laughs]. Later on I realised that I should probably stick to the type of games I know very well.

A lot of modern games are narrative-based but don't' really seem to have much gameplay. Do you think too many games focus on story at the expense of gameplay?

Pajitnov: Well I like some of those games. It is just a different product on the market. Those games have a different cycle of life and they have a different outlook. They are perhaps very popular but for a much shorter lifespan. Interest will naturally drop. But this is fine and natural. A puzzle game, if it is good, has a much longer lifespan.

On the other hand character and story don't usually reach a very wide audience because the story is only going to appeal to a certain number of people. I was surprised when I did Pandora's Box. We came up with a very interesting story for Pandora's Box but I realised that people playing these types of games don't really want story. A story is only ever going to appeal to a certain percentage of the population.

The industry is now celebrating the fact that games have become mass-market and can appeal to anyone, but surely Tetris did this all those years ago?

Pajitnov: That's because it is abstract. It doesn't have any good ideas story-wise but it doesn't have negative aspects either. That is why. Also you can't really die in a game like this, just go back to the beginning.

You've been receiving royalties for Tetris since 1996; does this money allow you to be more creative and independent?

Pajitnov: Exactly! I am very happy that I can be more independent now.

Do you think Tetris is the most creative game you've ever made?

Pajitnov: That depends what you mean by creative. Tetris is the most popular game I've ever designed. But then Tetris was just a block of my life. I was lucky to come up with that. I am also very proud of the work I did with Pandora's Box. I feel I came up with a new genre there. I tired to move it forward. I also feel Hexic is a good design, so I have nothing to be ashamed of.

Tetris has inspired some interesting tributes. What's the strangest you have seen?

Pajitnov: Some students made a Tetris game on the side of a building as part of an art project. That was amazing.

Didn't one Japanese fan glue his Tetris cartridge in his GameBoy?

Pajitnov: Ah, yes, that was a public event in Japan. I was asked to attend and sign autographs. A guy came to me and asked me to sign his Tetris cartridge for GameBoy. Then he glued it into his GameBoy in front of me. Remember a GameBoy was expensive back then. He's probably still got it now.

Why did you decide to move from Russia to the USA?

Pajitnov: I feel I needed to know better my country and practically all my countrymen were in United States.

Was it difficult adjusting in the early days?

Pajitnov: I was in a better position than many of my compatriots that move to the USA. It was a little bit easier for me although my English was very bad and I didn't understand the lifestyle.

What things were challenging with the culture?

Pajitnov: Well, first of all there was never any bureaucracy at home. In the States there were lots of letters, lots of things to work out. That was the big differences. Tax for instance was never something I had to deal with in Russia. There was tax in Russia but it was always withdrawn at your place of work. It was much simpler.

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