Although Tetris is one of the most successful video games ever made, the incredible true story behind its origins has until now been relatively unknown by most of the millions of people who play it.


The game was created by Soviet-born games designer Alexey Pajitnov in 1984, and in the years that followed, a complicated legal situation developed regarding the rights to the game. This eventually led to Dutchman Henk Rogers travelling to Moscow from his home in Tokyo in a bid to secure a contract that would allow him to distribute it internationally.

This story is told in the brand new film Tetris, with Rogers and Pajitnov played by Taron Egerton and Nikita Yefremov respectively, and ahead of the release, the two men themselves spoke exclusively with about seeing their true story turned into a film.

"The story of me going to Moscow and finding Tetris is for me such an interesting story," explained Rogers. "It's so much more interesting than most game origin stories that I was worried that it wasn't going to come through – that it would become ridiculous."

Pajitnov added: "I was amazed that it's possible to concentrate a very serious and very complicated story in such a short frame as a movie and make it realistic. [But] it definitely kind of recreates at least the spiritual and emotional picture of this big deal about my game."

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Although Pajitnov and Rogers have now been in partnership for several decades, the pair's first meeting – as shown in the film – was a rather tense one, and unsurprisingly Rogers can still remember it with great clarity.

"I remember the room I was in being interrogated by eight people," he said. "Who the hell was I coming to the Soviet Union, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. And it's like, holy s**t, I'm gonna be sent to a gulag! They were questioning and then they would argue with each other. It's like, 'Oh, my God, what's going on?'"

He continued: "And one of those people was Alexey, so that was my first meeting. But little by little, Alexey and I warmed up, because he figured out that I was a game designer. I wasn't just a con man, as he called the other people who came before me trying to get the rights to Tetris. Con man, businessman – I think he uses those words interchangeably. But I was a game designer. And I felt that he was the creator of Tetris, and he should be honoured for having created this product."

"Yeah, that was a very amazing meeting for me," added Pajitnov. "Because I was invited to the regular routine kind of business meeting. And finally, I met my colleague, the first colleague I have ever seen, because no such profession as game designer existed in the Soviet Union at that time!"

Although the script tells many of the real events as they really happened, as with just about any adaptation of a true story, there are a fair few liberties taken with the truth. But Pajitnov explained that he and Rogers worked alongside screenwriter Noah Pink and director Jon S Baird to ensure there was always a level of groundedness to the tale – even when it came to exaggerating certain elements.

"We fought a lot with Noah, because his job was to make real action stuff with lots of KGB agents, waving the revolver and air battles and everything that Hollywood likes very much," he said. "But it was our life. So we tried to recreate the real stuff which we faced. And we're very happy that Noah was very responsive and made the real thriller on steroids out of our relatively regular story."

"I don't know about relatively regular!" interjected Rogers. "I mean, this was an adventure from beginning to end for me, it was like an amazing adventure that I was on. And yeah, I was really afraid that it would get lost, the actual story would get lost in the movie.

"Because you know the time period is about a year and a half, and so they condensed a year and a half of my life into two hours. How do you get all of that across, you know, the complicated business dealings, dealing with the Soviet Union, all of these things? And they did a great job. So yeah, I was pleasantly surprised."

As well as working with Pink and Baird, the two men also met the actors playing them in the film, and Pajitnov said he was impressed by the approach taken by both Egerton and especially Yefremov.

"We did have a long conversation," he explained. "I had specifically long conversations with Nikita and he was very accurate and asked very, very precise questions about myself and looked at me very, very attentively. And I love his work, I love his role. He did a great job. And I enjoy the work of Taron as well – he kind of recreated that great temperament of my friend!"

"He did a great job," Rogers added of Egerton. "I mean, I did a bunch of things that aren't in the movie, he did a bunch of things that I didn't do in real life. But the story is there."

There is one detail in particular that Rogers was sad couldn't make it into the film: his painstaking efforts to draw up a contract with Soviet state-owned company ELORG – who then held the rights to Tetris – on his first 10-day visit to Moscow.

"That's probably the best contract ever," he said. "Because ELORG used that as the basis for all the rest of their contracts after that. It was clear – no bulls**t. That didn't make it into the movie. It's kind of a miraculous part of of the trip, but it's okay – the movie lives without it!"

Tetris is released on Friday 31st March 2023 on Apple TV+ – you can sign up to Apple TV+ here.

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