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.

Cahoots Malone
Revisit Your Favorite '90s Screensaver With This Free Game
Cahoots Malone
Cahoots Malone

In the '90s, a significant amount of computing power was devoted to generating endless brick mazes on Windows 95. The screensaver has since become iconic, and now nostalgic Microsoft fans can relive it in a whole new way. As Motherboard reports, the animation has been re-imagined into a video game called Screensaver Subterfuge.

Instead of watching passively as your computer weaves through the maze, you’re leading the journey this time around. You play as a kid hacker who’s been charged with retrieving sensitive data hidden in the screensaver of Windows 95 before devious infomancers can get to it first. The gameplay is pretty simple: Use the arrow keys to navigate the halls and press Q and click the mouse to change their design. Finding a giant smiley face takes you to level two, and finding the briefcase icon ends the game. There are also lots of giant rats in this version of the screensaver.

Screensaver Subterfuge was designed by Cahoots Malone as part of the PROCJAM 2017 generative software showcase. You can download it for free for Windows, macOS, and Linux from his website, or if playing a game sounds like too much work, you can always watch videos of the old screensaver on a loop.

[h/t Motherboard]

Brain Training Could Help Combat Hearing Loss, Study Suggests

Contrary to what you might think, the hearing loss that accompanies getting older isn't entirely about your ears. Studies have found that as people get older, the parts of their brain that process speech slow down, and it becomes especially difficult to isolate one voice in a noisy environment. New research suggests there may be a way to help older people hear better: brain training.

The Verge reports that a new double-blind study published in Current Biology suggests that a video game could help older people improve their hearing ability. Though the study was too small to be conclusive, the results are notable in the wake of several large studies in the past few years that found that the brain-training games on apps like Luminosity don't improve cognitive skills in the real world. Most research on brain training games has found that while you might get better at the game, you probably won't be able to translate that skill to your real life.

In the current study, the researchers recruited 24 older adults, all of whom were long-term hearing-aid users, for eight weeks of video game training. The average age was 70. Musical training has been associated with stronger audio perception, so half of the participants were asked to play a game that asked them to identify subtle changes in tones—like you would hear in a piece of music—in order to piece together a puzzle, and the other half played a placebo game designed to test their memory. In the former, as the levels got more difficult, the background noise got louder. The researchers compare the task to a violinist tuning out the rest of the orchestra in order to listen to just their own instrument.

After eight weeks of playing their respective games around three-and-a-half hours a week, the group that played the placebo memory game didn't perform any better on a speech perception test that asked participants to identify sentences or words amid competing voices. But those who played the tone-changing puzzle game saw significant improvement in their ability to process speech in noise conditions close to what you'd hear in an average restaurant. The tone puzzle group were able to accurately identify 25 percent more words against loud background noise than before their training.

The training was more successful for some participants than others, and since this is only one small study, it's possible that as this kind of research progresses, researchers might find a more effective game design for this purpose. But the study shows that in specific instances, brain training games can benefit users. This kind of game can't eliminate the need for hearing aids, but it can help improve speech recognition in situations where hearing aids often fail (e.g., when there is more than one voice speaking). However, once the participants stopped playing the game for a few months, their gains disappeared, indicating that it would have to be a regular practice.

[h/t The Verge]


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