This morning I watched a documentary called “Thumb Candy – A History of Computer Games”. It centers on interviews with many early video game pioneers, beginning with Steve Russel who wrote Spacewar! in 1962 for MIT’s PDP-1.

While worth watching, I’m not here to recommend the film. I wanted to point out a snippet taken from around the 44 minute mark, during the interview with legendary Tetris creator Alexey Pajitnov. The host asks Pajitnov a familiar question:

Why is Tetris so addictive?

Pajitnov points out that when the game ends, the remaining clutter that once was your game board becomes “a picture of your mistakes”.

Gesturing at the HUD, he remarks that “your results are somewhere in this number, in the score” but “what cries from the screen is your mistakes… and you want to fix it right away”. It’s subtle, but I think there’s some truth to that.

To lose and have your score staring you in the face is one thing, it’s just a number. But it’s another thing all together to be forced to look at your game board, sad and cluttered after you’ve worked so hard at keeping it clean. Without scores to compare yours to, a number has little meaning. But there’s no ambiguity to the meaning of the tangled wreckage that is your final screen.

I know I can do better.

We talk about this a lot at the office and often refer to it as the “just one more game” effect. How do you create a game that always makes you want to play just one more? Surely there are many contributing factors:

  • length of a single game
  • how easy it is to restart the game quickly
  • how much progress the player loses upon restart (no items to re-collect or abilities to re-acquire)
  • how fun the game is – duh

and so on. But I think there’s something very elegant about the idea of having a history of your failure splayed out in front of you at the end. A straight piece standing defiantly just one block from its intended home, another desperately over-rotated into an awkward final resting place. The final moment of Tetris can be a horrifying window into 20/20 hindsight and there’s no doubt it lends a hand in coaxing the user to give it just one more go.

I know I can do better.

It’s such a simple concept but one I’d never really considered on this basic a level until now. I will be thinking about ways to incorporate it into my games in the future. And in the spirit of it, why not read just one more article. :P j/k