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.

Barbie Is Now Giving Coding Lessons

Mattel wants to help 10 million kids learn to code by 2020, and the toy giant is enlisting one of its most career-focused assets: Barbie. According to Engadget, Mattel is working with the coding education company Tynker to make seven Barbie-themed computer programming lessons.

Barbie has been a pilot, an architect, the president, and a computer engineer, so there may be no better character to teach kids the joys of coding. The lessons, arriving in summer 2018, will be designed for youngsters in kindergarten and up, and will teach Barbie-lovers more than just how to make apps. They’ll use Barbie’s many careers—which also included veterinarian, robotics engineer, and astronaut—as a way to guide kids through programming concepts.

An illustration depicts Barbie and her friends surrounded by cats and dogs and reads 'Barbie: Pet Vet.'

A screenshot of a Barbie coding lesson features a vet's office full of pets.

There are plenty of new initiatives that aim to teach kids how to code, from a Fisher-Price caterpillar toy to online games featuring Rey from Star Wars. This is the third partnership between Mattel and Tynker, who have already produced programming lessons using Hot Wheels and Monster High.

Kindergarten may seem a little soon to set kids on a career path as a computer programmer, but coding has been called “the most important job skill of the future,” and you don’t need to work for Google or Facebook to make learning it worthwhile. Coding can give you a leg up in applying for jobs in healthcare, finance, and other careers outside of Silicon Valley. More importantly for kids, coding games are fun. Who wouldn’t want to play Robotics Engineer Barbie?

[h/t Engadget]

All images by Tynker

"American Mall," Bloomberg
Unwinnable Video Game Challenges You to Keep a Shopping Mall in Business
"American Mall," Bloomberg
"American Mall," Bloomberg

Shopping malls, once the cultural hub of every suburb in America, have become a punchline in the e-commerce era. There are plenty of malls around today, but they tend to be money pits, considering the hundreds of "dead malls" haunting the landscape. Just how hard is it to keep a mall afloat in the current economy? American Mall, a new video game from Bloomberg, attempts to give an answer.

After choosing which tycoon character you want as your stand-in, you're thrown into a mall—rendered in 1980s-style graphics—already struggling to stay in business. The building is filled with rats and garbage you have to clean up if you want to keep shoppers happy. Every few seconds you're contacted by another store owner begging you to lower their rent, and you must either take the loss or risk them packing up for good. When stores are vacated, it's your job to fill them, but it turns out there aren't too many businesses interested in setting up shop in a dying mall.

You can try gimmicks like food trucks and indoor playgrounds to keep customers interested, but in the end your mall will bleed too much money to support itself. You can try playing the bleak game for yourself here—maybe it will put some of the retail casualties of the last decade into perspective.

[h/t Co.Design]


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