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Tetris World Championship's Henk Rogers Answers the Question: Can Tetris Survive in a 3-D/Smartphone/Social Media World?

Henk Rogers of the Tetris Company
Henk Rogers of the Tetris Company
Ivan Fernandez

"I have a feeling that colorblind people are going to have a tougher time playing Tetris," said Henk Rogers, managing director of the Tetris Company, in an interview, in the midst of explaining how colors play an important role in the game.

Rogers was in town Sunday to co-host and present the awards at the 2nd Annual Tetris World Championship as he did last year. The event brought a small mob of Tetris fanatics to the Bovard Auditorium on USC's campus where returning champion Jonas Neubauer repeated last year's win on the classic NES version of Tetris.

The game is more than 20 years old and has hardly deviated from its original concept: eliminating lines by stacking falling, geometric shapes, known as tetrominoes, into place. New features have been added over the years, such as multiplayer modes and moves such as t-spins, but the basic gameplay and controls have remained the same since day one.

"We're learning that with all these social games," explained Rogers, "all this huge computing power that Sony and Microsoft are throwing at these consoles, it's not what people are asking for at the end of the day. They're looking for simple 2-d graphics. We're not going to take Tetris off into some direction that, later on, we find out people don't really want to go."

Henk Rogers and the 2011 Tetris Champions
Henk Rogers and the 2011 Tetris Champions
Ivan Fernandez

Any changes to the game are small refinements made gradually, carefully and with an understanding of the basic functions of the brain and eyes. "There's actually specific brain cells that are tuned to recognized vertical and horizontal lines," said Rogers, "and so if they're not vertical or not horizontal, now you're using a different part of your brain. That may take more time, that may take more energy." It's one reason why you'll never see Tetris blocks falling horizontally, diagonally or from the bottom-up.

The same goes for the colors of the blocks in the game. "We have a new color scheme," said Rogers, "and we're trying to get closer to the rainbow because that's the most natural color scheme. We're analyzing it and, it's so funny, because you shift one and they all have to be re-jigged a little bit because they kind of push each other around. Again, shape and color are recognized by different parts, not only of your brain but, of your eye."

Naturally, these refinements will help shape the new variations of Tetris: Social Tetris and Tetris for smartphones. Social Tetris, which should have a prototype out by the end of the year, will (obviously) require players to socialize with each other in order to unlock certain achievements like they do in the popular Facebook social game Farmville. Meanwhile, the company is tweaking Tetris for smartphones by making the touch-screen interface more intuitive requiring less finger movements.

One aspect of the game that will never be altered is the blocks. There will always only be the I, J, L, O, S, T and Z blocks. These basic shapes are the foundation of the game and the main reason for its success.

"You never grow out of geometry," said Rogers. "Circle, square, triangle, those are objects that are recognized by a different part of the brain. Those objects are basic objects that you lock onto for your entire life. It has nothing to do with age. You don't go 'oh, I don't like circles anymore because I just turned 30.'"

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