How Gen Z Pushes NES Tetris To The Limit

Image credit: Greyj / Getty Images (modified)

“Classic Tetris” usually refers to the NES port of the game. It is considered the original of the gold standard and is the version played in the CTWC tournaments. That means original NES consoles, controllers, and large old CRT televisions. “A lot of people make fun of us in the comments. They are like, you can’t afford new televisions? Cornelius said Engadget.

This not only ensures authenticity but creates a level playing field. Other contests like Classic Tetris Monthly are more relaxed about the hardware / emulation you can play on, but the CTWC and any world records will usually be played on original Nintendo consoles. There is a slight concession to allow a special version of the game to be tweaked for higher scores (this is often done with Game Genie) and you’ll understand later why.

Saelee’s victory in the 2018 CTWC Finals might have surprised everyone, but it didn’t happen in a vacuum. Interest in the game has grown steadily since the tournament’s inaugural event in 2010, which was also the subject of a documentary: Ecstasy of Order: Masters of Tetris (directed by Cornelius). The film followed a group of high-ranking players towards the climax of the first CTWC event. Winner? Jonas Neubauer.

CTWC soon found a home at the Portland Retro Gaming Expo and has grown more and more year after year. In 2016, another rookie made it to the final against Neubauer who was fighting for his sixth title. This player, Jeff Moore, lived the course of his life by shooting repeated Tetris to the commentators’ amazement. “Boom, Tetris for Jeff” they shouted every time he moved the long bar on the right side of the screen.

“Commentators were so excited about this new black horse candidate, Jeff, that they said,” Boom, Tetris for Jeff, “maybe a little over the top. And people just stumbled across the video [on YouTube]Cornelius said. The cuts were made and the T-shirts were printed. “Boom, Tetris for Jeff” was just the right kind of fool in the right place (YouTube) to arouse the interest of younger eyes and stimulate a growing appetite for competing classic Tetris movies.

“There are many more young players at stake, especially since Joseph Saelee won the world championship because he blew up the scene in terms of teenagers and so on.” Christopher “Cheez” Martinez, said Engadget.

Cheez, as he is known in the Tetris community, is one of those teenagers. He found the game thanks to a video about Saelee’s World Cup win, followed by another recommendation on Tetris effect. At 16, he discovers a game that was already twice his age. Like many new teenage players, his progress was remarkably fast.

Greyj / Getty images (modified form)

Before competitions like the CTWC appeared, there were two white whales for the elite classic Tetris players. The main one was “maxout”. The NES version of the game only has a six-digit leaderboard, meaning 999,999 is the highest score possible, but it was hard to achieve, not least because of the second elusive goal: beating level 29 (aka the “kill screen”).

Anyone who has played any version of Tetris knows that one of the main dynamics is that you remove lines to move to the next level as the blocks fall faster than the previous level. In NES Tetris, level 29 is where the game hits maximum speed and was widely considered insurmountable when DAS was the only style of play. This in turn meant that if you were playing for maxout you had to get there before level 29.

Maksout was officially first achieved by Harry Hong in 2009, but it is widely accepted that another old school gamer, Thor Aackerlund, achieved this earlier, but long before video phones, YouTube, and social media. Aackerlund also claimed to hit level 30 (albeit briefly), but the myth of that achievement meant it would be years before the kill screen was truly deemed defeated.

After Hong maxed in 2009, the slow trickle of players started hitting the target every year. Until you get to 2019, where the number is accelerating exponentially. “It took me a year, I was progressing quite slowly compared to many players now. People reach their maximum in four or five months. It’s kind of funny. ” Cheez said. He reached his first maxout in 2019 and was the 65th player to do so. Today about 400 people have achieved the magic million points.

As for passing the “kill screen” of level 29. At one point it was considered almost impossible. A hard wall that couldn’t be beat due to the way the game was designed. The DAS simply cannot move the elements to any edge fast enough, which means that when the “stack” gets above a certain height, the math takes over and failure is guaranteed. Despite Aackerlund taking a peek at level 30, the reign of terror in Kill Screen really ended when Saelee hit verified level 33 just months after winning their first World Cup.

However, despite two high-level Tetris main goals that are no longer out of reach, these achievements seem almost peculiar by today’s standards. As DAS gave way to hypertapping, the once impossible soon became a rite of passage for elite gamers. But with the kill screen limitation removed, the theoretical scoring cap has also been eliminated. Whereas level 29 probably was supposed to be the last level (the level counter bursts when you hit 30 and the speed doesn’t increase anymore no matter what level you get) the hypertapping probably still wasn’t fast enough to allow players to progress further.

Cheez had other ideas.

Animated GIF of Tetromino
Greyj / Getty images (modified form)

While he made a name for himself as a hyper-tapping player, Cheez eventually found a video where someone was using a technique that doubled the number of inputs per press. “They put their thumb down and hit the bottom and top of the other thumb, and you were getting two entrances in the same move. So I kind of got inspired by this at the end of 2020. And rolling became a thing. ”

Rolling is a strange technique to watch. Most players rest the controller on their thigh or knee, many wear one glove, and then “sound” from the bottom with one thumb on the D-pad. However you get there, you can move your pieces left and right even faster than with hypertapping. It’s such an effective technique, says Cornelius, that some fans consider it a cheat. In the eyes of the CTWC, this is perfectly legal as it is done with unmodified NES hardware and only your hands.

Rolling is so effective that it allows players to dismantle the current game limitations. Remember when the Saelee hit the first level 33 in 2019? Well, when I interviewed Cheez for this story, the new record for the top tier was 63 – a kill screen and above. By the time I clicked on the publication, that record was broken again and the impressive 95 is now a goal to beat.

This rapid advancement is not only about new world records, it is a fundamental change in the strategic way to play and physically. The competitive classic Tetris is all about the result. Not the number of lines or the number of Tetris scored, but who will score the most points in the game to three wins.

In the old world, the hard killing screen limit forced players to focus on the effective game, scoring as many Tetris as possible before level 29. In the rolling age, the pros train starting at level 29. Here comes Game Genie as the original version of the game, it just can’t count above 999,999, which you will definitely need when you reach that level. If you improve your skills as quickly as possible, it becomes the new norm and theoretically you can play forever. That way, we can go from the non-kill screen to level 95. But that also presents some challenges to the evolving esports that Cornelius is all too aware of.

“I predict that this year, maybe this year, maybe five years from now, but soon they’ll all hit their 28s. And they’ll always hit 50. And add another million points. And it really will only be… who’s the first one to flinch, who’s to fail first, that’s really all that matters, ”he said.

It is already happening, at least on the record track. Shortly before I interviewed Cheez, he recently set a world record for the highest score: 2.3 million, which coincidentally included 61 level and a total of 551 lines cleared – both of these records at the time were new world records. All of these have since been overcome, and by a considerable margin. The game is now in a stage where players are looking for more niche or specific goals and records to beat – such as the highest start score at level 29 – as these are areas of the game yet to be broken.

In early 2021, the Tetris community was shaken by something unexpected. On January 5, Neubauer, 39, collapsed and died of a sudden cardiac arrhythmia of undefined cause. The game’s most iconic character is gone, and with it the last DAS championship player. “Jonas’s passing is a big part of the story, and he was my friend,” said Cornelius. “Of course, nothing compares to a loss at all. But in the Tetris stage, it was fun to have one person from the old guard who could really hold on to all the kids.

Despite renewed interest in the game by a much younger generation, Tetris is still a bit of a marginal esport. You’ll find games showcased on ESPN and of course rising in popularity, but the prize pools remain modest compared to more popular games like Counterattack or League of Legends.

“The CTWC is now the highest paying tournament. And the first place prize is $ 3,000. So that’s not it Fortnite but it’s still a pretty decent sum. ‘ Cheez said. When I asked him if he would consider doing it full time if it became an option, he was diplomatic. “Honestly, it’s hard to predict the future of the scene, but if the money improves I might try to make work out of it at some point, but I don’t know how stable it would be.”

Cornelius is a bit more optimistic about the future. “You know, when you watch an Olympic sport, you don’t watch someone beat everyone twice, you see people winning with those tiny, tiny, tiny advantages that are almost imperceptible,” he said. “I think this is where Tetris is going, where all the players will converge to a point where everyone will play exactly the same. And there’s one perfect way to play and we see them try to just add in every year, just keep pushing it a little further. ”

For his part, Cheez made it to the April Classic Tetris Monthly semi-finals and will no doubt be looking to beat his seven in the 2020 top seven at the CTWC after finishing 21st in last year’s event. One thing is for sure, whoever wins will likely be a reel, which means Cheez’s mark in the tournament and the game overall is indelible.

Due to the pandemic, the CTWC was forced to transfer the competition to the network. This year’s plans have yet to be confirmed, but we hope to be back for a personal event if possible. Reigning world champion Michael “Dog” Artiaga will return to defend his title. After Saelee’s win in 2018, he won again in 2019. Dog won the title for the next two years and many players are ready to take his crown. The dog is widely regarded as the one to be beaten, especially after recording a high of 2.2 million at the start from Level 29. Because today’s Tetris starts where the old game left off.

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