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Tetris Pieces Fall in Place for Big Philly Game

Hundreds of Tetris fans plan to gather in Philadelphia for a skyscraper-sized version of the classic video game, a spectacle that organizers hope will inspire onlookers and players to think about the possibilities of technology.

Tetris
Playing Tetris. (Photo by Oli Scarff/Getty Images)

The 29-story Cira Centre, which has hundreds of LED lights embedded in its glass facade, normally displays colorful geometric patterns at night. On Saturday, images of supersized shapes will “fall” on two sides of the mirrored tower as competitors use joysticks to maneuver them into place.

The spectacle kicks off a citywide series of April 4-12 events called Philly Tech Week. It also celebrates the upcoming 30th anniversary of Tetris, a game revered as the epitome of elegance and simplicity, said Frank Lee, a digital media professor at Drexel University.

Lee, a game designer who oversaw creation of the giant display, said putting it on an office building is like making a huge virtual campfire.

“What I wanted to create was essentially a shared moment for the city of Philadelphia,” he said.

This won’t be the first time Tetris has been played on a building. But the 100,000-square-foot “screen” – which includes the north and south faces of the structure – could be a record.

Lee already holds the Guinness World Record for the world’s largest architectural video game display for playing Pong on one side of the Cira Centre last year. Pong, the granddaddy of all video games, is an electronic version of paddleball developed by Atari in 1972.

Tetris, created by Russian computer programmer Alexey Pajitnov in 1984, challenges players to rotate and arrange falling shapes into complete rows.

It became a global phenomenon in the late 1980s after game designer Henk Rogers, who had seen Tetris at a trade show in Las Vegas, acquired the rights and struck a deal to put it on Nintendo’s original Game Boy.

Rogers said he can’t believe the longevity of Tetris, which decades later continues to mesmerize players on more than 30 platforms.

“If a game lasts a year, that’s amazing,” said Rogers, now managing director of The Tetris Co. “They usually go out of style very quickly.”

Rogers, who plans to attend the event in Philadelphia, said several new Tetris products and initiatives are planned for release around its June 6 anniversary. He declined to discuss details.

City resident Melissa Koenig, 27, also expects to be part of the crowd at Eakins Oval, an outdoor plaza with a long view of the Cira Centre and a busy interstate below. She played supersized Pong last year, an experience she called “kind of thrilling.”

“You could see the cars kind of slowing down to look at it,” Koenig said. “It was just really cool and really beautiful.”

 

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