Tetris, a classic and beloved video game, has captured the hearts of millions of players around the world. It requires spatial awareness and geometric reasoning, making it both challenging and addictive. However, there is a version of Tetris that is even more demanding and difficult than the one found on your phone.
In a recent event, Justin “Fractal” Yu, an MIT junior, emerged as the top classic Tetris player in the world by winning the 2023 Classic Tetris World Championships. Yu, a computer science and engineering major, hails from Dallas, Texas, and has plans to double major in math with a minor in music technology. Despite his busy schedule, he still manages to play the cello in MIT’s Videogame Orchestra and find time to practice classic Tetris.
Classic Tetris, which was released in 1989 for the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), differs significantly from the modern versions of the game. In the classic version, players can only see one piece at a time, and there is no option to swap out a piece or customize how pieces move left and right. This poses a significant challenge for players, as they have to find ways to work around these limitations.
One technique that Yu and other players have mastered is called “rolling.” In modern versions of Tetris, players can instantly move pieces from side to side by holding a button. However, this mechanic doesn’t exist in classic Tetris. To overcome this obstacle, players have developed a technique where they mash buttons as fast as possible, using all their fingers to push the controller into their hand. With this technique, they are able to achieve the maximum possible input of 30 hertz, given the game’s frame rate of 60 hertz.
The competition rules are simple. Each player plays on their own setup and gets their own score. To ensure fairness, they play with the same pieces on each side, so that each player gets approximately the same amount of luck.
Yu’s journey to becoming the top classic Tetris player in the world was not an easy one. The learning curve is steep and punishing, as mistakes compound upon themselves. In the beginning, Yu tried to learn from other players and their techniques. However, a fundamental shift occurred when he started experimenting with his own ideas. He also had to adapt to the discovery of the rolling technique, which didn’t exist when he first started playing. Each player had to figure out this new technique on their own, much like a major scientific discovery.
While Tetris may not have spilled over into other areas of Yu’s life in terms of spatial awareness and geometric reasoning, it has opened doors for him. His involvement with classic Tetris has led to an internship opportunity, allowing him to learn more about the game and its programming.
In conclusion, Justin “Fractal” Yu’s achievement in becoming the top classic Tetris player in the world is a testament to his dedication and skill. His journey highlights the challenges and techniques involved in playing classic Tetris, a version of the game that is even more demanding and rewarding than its modern counterparts.