After watching THE documentary about Tetris on Youtube, I realised one of its creator worked at Google. I immediately reached out to Vadim Gerasimov and asked him on a virtual coffee.
Vadim accepted to meet me and I got the chance to meet the creator of Tetris for 30 minutes from a conference room in Dublin.
Vadim started by giving me a history of his work at Google. As a software engineer he worked on multiple projects started on Google Wave (remember how excited we all were about this?) then moved on to Drive for android, Google Photos, Fitbit and other projects.
“ When you are a software engineer at Google, you work for 2–3 years on a specific project and then you can request a change. You’re usually limited by what’s available in your location, but if you’re willing to move you really have lots of options. “
After finishing univeristy in Boston [ Vadim went to MIT] in 2003, he thought about getting a job in the U.S. but unfortunately visa issues made it difficult and he ended leaving for Australia.
THE TETRIS STORY
The Tetris story starts a little bit by coincidence at the Soviet Academy of Science in Moscow. A member of the academy came back from a holiday in the U.S. with a bunch of personal computers (PCs) and brought them to work. This lead to the creation of the computing center of the academy where Tetris was eventually born.
Vadim visited the computing center during a high-school trip. He was so amazed and intrigued by the computers that he ended spending every afternoon there, messing around with the computers. An older guy, Alexey Pajitnov, saw potential in him and took him under his wing. Together with a small team they started programming games.
“When the first version of Tetris came out, we suspected it would be very sucessful. We played games ourselves. It was a unique time where you could write competitive software of good value with a couple of developers in a week or two. The idea of tetris didn’t require much of graphics, it was so simple yet so addictive. It was a unique proposition coincidence.”
Eventually he was tasked with rewriting the game for the IBM PC. Which is actually the version who got around [later I learned he was also the one who added the scoreboard and colours].
Given the success of the game, the team tried to sell it but didn’t work out.
The 2 main instigators of Tetris started hating each other. The first ended going to London and started his own gaming studio. Vadim and him lost contact and haven’t spoken in 25 years. The second moved to the U.S. and started Tetris inc. which owns the licences and all IP of the game.
“In the end; the game came out in the West. Andromeda managed to get the license. But we personally didn’t get much from this. The computer center got millions of dollars. They gave us a TV set and a VCR.”
Over the years, Vadim developped some games on his own, but never as successful at Tetris. He went out to study math and computer science at the State Univeristy of Russia in Moscow. Prior to finishing the uni he went to Japan, worked for 1 year at age 21. He worked with companies like Sega and Sony oftentimes on videogame related projects. At the time, he met a bunch of MIT grads in Tokyo so he then went back to Moscow to finish his studies and moved to the US to go to MIT. He spent the next 9 years there and was an important part of the medialab at MIT.
Waina: Would you have done things differently?
Vadim Gerasimov (GV): I think I would have like to create a game company witht the original team. But I was too young to really understand what it meant and how to do it .
“Ideas like Tetris are very rare. It was the right time, but the wrong place.”
Waina: What do you think of current videogames?
VG: Games nowadays are like movie productions, they cost so much money to make. But, game creators still develop games like Tetris, that don’t require much money are low tech but are addictive and really good. World of Goo and are good examples. Engineers love Baba is you because it’s about solving puzzles and it’s very addictive.
Waina: What do you think of the Metaverse?
VG: I played second life at the time. I thought it was an interesting idea but not sure if the current metaverse is that much different and if the current games are as succesful as people try to present them. Something about it doesn’t quite work yet, the graphics are too cartoonish and the human interaction is not really well done yet. It’s too cluncky. I’m not sure how it will evolve but I don’t think it’s better than second life yet. It’s really too slow to develop, I wish it went faster.
I had tons more questions to ask Vadim, but I got kicked out of the meeting room. I’m so humbled to have met Vadim! Great things can happen at the workplace.