How much do you know about the origins of Tetris? If you were old enough to remember when it came out, you probably know a large amount about its origins. But even as a casual fan, I never could have guessed the number of hurdles that Henk Rogers went through to secure the licensing rights to one of the most popular video games of its time. Apple TV+’s Tetris drops on March 31st, so let’s dive into the film, right after the synopsis and trailer.
“Tetris” tells the unbelievable story of how one of the world’s most popular video games found its way to avid players around the globe. Henk Rogers (Taron Egerton) discovers TETRIS in 1988, and then risks everything by traveling to the Soviet Union, where he joins forces with inventor Alexey Pajitnov (Nikita Efremov) to bring the game to the masses. Based on a true story, “Tetris” is a Cold War–era thriller on steroids, with double-crossing villains, unlikely heroes and a nail-biting race to the finish.
Apple TV has decided to put their trust in Taron Egerton again (previously did in the limited series Black Bird), as he headlines Tetris as Henk Rogers. The story of Tetris is something you would probably think you could only find in a Hollywood movie script but it is in fact a true story. Now, don’t mistake the fact that this is still a film script. The director, Jon S. Baird, took liberties with the story and dramatized it to make it more entertaining but the bones are still there.
Tetris was invented by a Russian computer engineer by the name of Alexey Pajitnov. As an employee of a state-run computer lab, anything he made was owned by the Soviet Union and not by the employees. And he wasn’t able to profit from it. However, the game found its way outside of Russia with some limited licensing agreements. When popularity started to draw the attention of bigger companies, that’s when things got very interesting. A cold war of sorts broke out between Henk Rogers of Bullet Proof software (now called Blue Planet), and MirrorSoft as everyone scrambled for the rights to what was going to be the most popular video game ever.
Sure just walking into Russia to try and license anything that was Russian IP was a dangerous game at the time, but it’s one they played anyways. Henk had a potential gold mine deal with Nintendo which was about to reveal their first handheld gaming system, the Gameboy, and Henk wanted Tetris to be packaged with it. This is where things go Hollywood over factual. As the film spends time in Russia and Henk navigates what it was like to be in a country before the fall of the Soviet Union, the director takes liberties to create a spy-film-style drama. The KGB is involved, chases ensue, and not-so-subtle threats are made as Henk is warned to back off.
Even with all the non-factual dramatized filler, the story ends with much of the truth intact and like any good “based on a true story” film, provides the film recap of true events that took place with the fall of MirrorSoft, the rise of Henk Rogers and Alexey Pajitnov and the sheer madness in sales that Tetris achieved in its early years. Even if you take out the made-for-Hollywood pieces of the story, this bonkers origin story for Tetris is a piece of gaming history that shouldn’t be forgotten.
Tetris streams on Apple TV+ March 31st.