TETRIS! The Incredible True Story About the Beloved Video Game

Meet Creator Alexey Pajitnov & Henk Rogers


Tetris tells the unbelievable story of how one of the world’s most popular video games found its way to avid players around the globe. Henk Rogers (Taron Egerton) discovers Tetris in 1988, and then risks everything by traveling to the Soviet Union, where he joins forces with inventor Alexey Pajitnov (Nikita Efremov) to bring the game to the masses. Based on a true story, Tetris is a Cold War–era thriller on steroids, with double-crossing villains, unlikely heroes, and a nail-biting race to the finish.

We sat down with Henk and Alexey to learn more about their story, their friendship and the development of their incredible game.

Interviewed for Risen Magazine

Risen Magazine: The story is fascinating. I was a child in the ’80s, but of course I had Game Boy and of course, I spent many hours playing Tetris. Alexey, share a little bit about how you came up with the idea? And if I understand correctly, it was kind of even tied to something from your childhood.

Alexey Pajitnov: Yes, of course. I was in love with all the riddles reads and puzzles and mathematics from my childhood. So I really enjoyed with the small boxes, with all these Pentomino pieces, pieces made out of five squares. They’re a wealth of them, and they’re all look like a strange jigsaw puzzle. So you play with them. When you try to put it back in the box, you get in trouble because it might take good hour to embed them in each other, to fix it.

So one day at my computer center, I decide to make two-player game using those pieces. And when I start program this stuff, the idea of realtime game came to me. I immediately downsize it to four square and then Tetris was born. That’s in brief, the story.

RM: Henk, you get a chance to play, you immediately recognize its appeal and it’s magical. But talk to me about when you mentally went from this is something that, “I want to rep, I want to be a part of,” to, “I am willing to battle for worldwide rights and all that comes with that”?

Henk Rogers: One thing led to another. I published Tetris on seven different personal computer platforms and on Nintendo Family Computer in Japan. And then Game Boy came out. And oh my goodness, Game Boy is the perfect machine for Tetris. So I had that meeting and said, “Look, you should package this with Tetris.”

So the lines that you hear in the movie, those lines were my lines. We worked on the script. And so wherever we could make something as realistic as possible, we did. So those were real lines. The other line that was really me was like, “I’m not standing in front of this door. I didn’t fly all this way to stand in front of a door and go back. No, I’m going in.” So yeah, that was totally me. It was a little bit of chutzpah.

RM: When you think of it in context of everything that was going on with communism in the Soviet Union and the U.S.S.R. kind of breaking up, Alexey, can think back to what were your thoughts at that time? And then this isn’t like a war secret, this is a video game, talk about the power and the importance that was placed on Tetris.

AP: Exactly. But at that time, in the strict kind of political situation, even small stuff, to whom give those rights might become a really serious political trigger. As you see in the movie, it’s based on the real stuff.

Robert Maxwell was the publisher of Gorbachev memoir, and we feel really, really serious kind of pressure during all this deal, which you could observe from the movie. So movie historically is very, very truthful, at least emotionally,

HR: It squeezed a year and a half of our lives into two hours. So a lot of things that would’ve taken days had to be done in minutes. So to get that point across, they had to do Hollywood. And they did.

RM: Well, they kept me on the edge of my seat the whole time. And many times I thought, “Are they just going to walk away?” The stakes get so high. But what I loved seeing develop was on screen — and looks like mirrored in real life — is the friendship that the two of you formed, with seemingly different personalities, but a shared love and bond. Maybe talk a little bit about how the two of you built trust and are sitting next to each other today with a movie about your life?

HR: So from the time that I met Alexey, very quickly we figured out they were both game designers and we could talk about Tetris and the future of Tetris and all-

AP: And all juicy stuff.

HR: … all that exciting stuff. But we eventually, in 1996, formed The Tetris Company and we’ve been partners all the way along. And so right now, if we’re in the same jurisdiction in the same city, every other night, it’s a bottle of wine.

This is a religious thing that we do every other day when wherever we are. We even went to Europe and traveled around Europe and on a Euro pace pass. And because we’re so different, he wants everything planned, and I want to just go at adventure. So we have one day where everything is planned and we decide which hotel we’re going to stay at and everything. And one day we get on that train and we don’t know where we’re going to go, and we don’t know what’s going to happen when we get there. And it’s just adventure. So it worked out. We compromise.

RM: It’s incredible to me how far technology has come from the late ’80s to what we see with gaming today. Maybe just your thoughts on where we’re at as a society with gaming?

HR: We have this device called a mobile phone now. So that means you have a gaming device no matter where we go all the time. And you can see wherever you go, you see people playing some kind of game. If they’re not on social media, they’re playing a game. So games have expanded to cover the entire population.

And you can say Tetris was the breakthrough where gaming went from being a thing for men or guys, to for everybody. Because before that was 95% male-dominated, the players. And after Tetris, it was 50-50, men and women. That’s the way it should be, and young and old. There’s no age, there’s no gender, there’s no culture behind Tetris. So everybody can play Tetris.

Where’s gaming going now? I’m a little bit annoyed at having to watch commercials on my phone. It’s like, “Come on, buy the game already.” This is how much a game should cost. It’s a cup of coffee. It’s like $3.99 or $4.99. And instead of 10 minutes, we’re giving you 40 hours of pleasure. So you want to watch the commercials? Okay, that’s up to you. But I think it’s a miserable way of playing games.

AP: Yeah. Well, basically, I’m looking in future and I really think that artificial intelligence will be involved in the gaming. Frankly, I have no idea how, but it will be there, trust me.

Tetris premieres globally on Apple TV+ March 31


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