Who's the Best Tetris Player in the World?

In the new documentary Ecstasy of Order: The Tetris Masters, we get to see the top Tetris players in the world duke it out, to discover who is truly the master of the game. It's a fun, engaging, and moderately geeky documentary -- my favorite kind. Full disclosure: I know director Adam Cornelius from college, and I did a small bit of writing work on the film in postproduction. So this is, in a sense, shameless friend-promotion, with a little self-promotion thrown in. With that said, here's the trailer:

EOO follows Robin Mihara, a Portland-based gamer who came in third at the Nintendo World Championships in 1990 (remember The Wizard?). Twenty years after the NWC tournament, Mihara is obsessed with finding the best Tetris players in the world -- and this film shows how he tracks them down, brings them to a tournament in California, and reveals a series of surprises about each player and the world of competitive Tetris along the way. There is also a fascinating thread within the film about Thor Aackerlund, the player who took first place at the NWC, beating Mihara back in 1990 using his famous "vibrating thumb" technique. Thor is basically the god of Tetris, but no one has seen him in years. The central questions become: what happened to Thor?, and is Thor really as good as everyone remembers?

Because this documentary is about a tournament (which dominates the last third of the film -- after we've met all the competitors and established how high-level Tetris play works), portions of it have a sports vibe. Seeing it in the theater, audiences at the screenings I attended gasped when Tetris players were caught in tricky situations, and finally got a "long block" to finish a Tetris. I'm telling you: people were viscerally excited about a video game they were not playing. That's how well-made this movie is. The competition truly shows the best players in the world -- these are mathletes dunking on each other, in front of a crowd of screaming fans -- it's intense and awesome.

At the same time, Tetris (at least the NES Tetris they concentrate on for the tournament) is inherently non-competitive, so each player is really confronting him or herself. Only by combining all these self-competitions do we see what it means to be a Tetris master. It is an inwardly-focused game turned outward.

EOO was released yesterday on all the big Video-on-Demand services: iTunes, Google Play, YouTube, Vudu, CinemaNow, Xbox 360/Zune, and the Playstation Network. It's also out on DVD (Amazon), with a slew of extras.

You can read more about the film on its website. If you think you might be a Tetris master, come to the Classic Tetris World Championship (the competition shown in the film) this year in Portland. I'll be there. Wouldn't you like to beat me at Tetris?

One last thing: director Adam Cornelius is doing an Ask Me Anything on Reddit today, regarding the movie.

Blogger disclosure: while, as I said above, I did some some writing for this movie, I don't have any financial stake in it. It's a movie that I love, and I want more people to see it. And hey, if you like my writing about video games, I really think you will dig this.

Unraveling the Legend of Polybius, the Most Dangerous Video Game of the 1980s

For several decades, a creepy urban legend has circulated in the darker corners of online forums devoted to vintage video games. The tale goes that in 1981, a game with some unfortunate side effects appeared in a few suburban arcades in Portland, Oregon. The game was said to have been housed in an all-black cabinet, and while playing it was fun, gamers soon noticed they were feeling terrible after their sessions—suffering from extreme anxiety, seizures, night terrors, and an obsessive desire to continue playing. Some were even said to have attempted suicide.

To make matters even weirder, men in black supposedly visited the cabinet every few weeks to collect some kind of data—not money—from the back of the machine. And just a few months after it appeared, the game was gone. Its name: Polybius.

Some said the game was connected to MKUltra, a (real) CIA program experimenting with behavior modification techniques and LSD from the 1950s through the '70s, although no evidence of that was ever found. Recently, Great Big Story's series "8 Bit Legacy: The Curious History of Video Games" set out to investigate Polybius, and found some surprising truths behind the mystery. They also found some fans attempting to recreate the game—hopefully minus the ill effects. You can learn more below:

8 Clever Ways to Recycle Your Old Nintendo Equipment

For retro game players looking for a simple fix, the recent arrivals of Nintendo’s official NES Classic and Super NES Classic game systems have been an exciting purchase. The systems—when you can find them in stock—boot up dozens of classic games via an HDMI port. That’s left a pretty big inventory of original consoles and cartridges collecting dust in attics.

If you’re crafty and you dig the Nintendo aesthetic, check out these ideas for how to repurpose your old game gear into something new. (A word of caution: Modifying electronic components carries risk of electric shock, so we recommend being careful and using good judgment.)


A Nintendo console is shown after being modified into an alarm clock

Instructables user arrmayr0227 uploaded this tutorial on a better way to wake up. You’ll be splicing together a gutted NES console with a digital alarm clock, then rewiring the controller to set the time. The reset button acts as a snooze bar and the power button sets the alarm.


Video game artisan Fluctifragus offered a step-by-step breakdown of hollowing out an old NES console to make room for your tuna sandwiches. The interior components can be removed with a screwdriver; the remaining screw posts can be clipped and filed down with a rotary tool. Two small hinges will keep the top and bottom tethered together.


(Or coin purse, if you prefer.) Instructables user Zenilorac detailed a controller hack that involves separating the part by removing the back screws and then gluing a fabric-based zipper around the edges.


Lehmeier at Instructables perfected a new way of antagonizing your cat by rigging a laser diode and 9-volt battery into the NES’s light gun accessory. Pulling the trigger will allow power to pass from the battery to the diode.


For Mario, it’s always time to eat mushrooms. Your schedule is probably a little less predictable. He can still help you tell time with this tweak from Instructables user BeanGolem. The clock hands are spray-painted, while the cartridge is split in half to allow for a clock mechanism (available at most craft stores) to be installed.


A Nintendo Advantage controller is used as a guitar pedal
wenzsells, Instructables // CC BY 2.0

The joystick-equipped Advantage controller was one of the earliest peripherals available for the NES. Using this guide from Wenzsells, it’s the perfect size to double as a chassis for a pedal kit. The “turbo” knobs control volume, while the A button acts as power switch.


A Super Nintendo cartridge is used as a wallet
stalledaction, Instructables // CC BY-NC-SA 2.5

Who doesn’t want to show a bartender their ID by flashing a Super NES game cartridge? Instructables user Stalledaction crafted this conversation piece by fitting a transparent plate to the front and adding space for keys and a USB drive.


A Nintendo controller is operated as a computer mouse
Courtesy of Ryan McFarland

Ryan McFarland came up with a novel use for an old controller: turn it into a PC interface. An optical mouse is inserted into the chassis, while the A and B buttons serve as the left and right selectors. You’ll need, among other things, a Dremel tool, a hot glue gun, and about four or five hours’ worth of patience.


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