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Tetris Reversed is unearthed after being forgotten for a decade | The DeanBeat

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Many game fans have enjoyed the Tetris movie, which chronicled the creation and licensing of Tetris, the addictive game that Alexey Pajitnov created behind the Iron Curtain. His friend Henk Rogers went through a great deal of trouble to license the game in Russia and even get Pajitnov out of the Soviet Union decades ago.

But there’s one more chapter to the tale unfolding.

Today, Pajitnov and others who unearthed a forgotten game in the Tetris canon talked at the Game Developers Conference about Tetris Reversed, a prototype for a game that was considered lost.

But little did Pajitnov know that an engineer in charge of the game, Vedran Klanac, had kept a copy of it. Through the help of intermediaries, he showed it to Pajitnov and the two shared their memories of what happened to the lost game.

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Tetris Revisited panel at GDC 2024.
Tetris Revisited panel at GDC 2024.

Pajitnov, originally from Moscow, became famous as a computer engineer and inventor of the legendary computer game Tetris, which he created in the 1980s while working for the Soviet Academy of Sciences. Rogers got the rights to the game and eventually got Pajitnov out of the country. They retold some of this story at our GamesBeat Next 2023 event last October. (Be sure to sign up for GamesBeat Summit 2024 on May 20-21; you can use a 25% discount code: gbs24dean25.

Alexey Pajitnov is the creator of Tetrist
Alexey Pajitnov is the creator of Tetris

Pajitnov has lived in the U.S. since 1991, where he has been involved in the development of games such as Pandora’s Box and worked with companies such as Microsoft and WildSnake Software. In addition to his iconic Tetris game, he is behind titles such as Hatris, El-Fish, and Hexic among many others that have deepened and expanded game design. He was awarded First Penguin Award at Game Developers Choice Awards in 2007 for his breakthrough in the world of games. And his story was the subject of the Tetris movie.

Klanac is the CEO of Ocean Media, and he is originally from Zagreb, Croatia. He was an aerospace engineer who started his career in the games industry with Croteam where he built the physics engine for Serious Sam 2.

Since 2006, he has been running Ocean Media, a game publishing company with a focus on consoles. During the last 20 years, he was involved in production as a programmer and executive producer in more than 200 projects. And it turns out he was the programmer who created the Tetris Reversed code based on instructions from Pajitnov, who had passed them on through a middleman.

More than a decade ago

Vedran Klanac was the prototype creator.

In 2011, programmer Vedran Klanac went to the NLGD Festival of Games in Utrecht, The Netherlands. He listened to a talk on a charitable effort from Martin de Ronde, a cofounder of game studio Guerrilla Games. Klanac said in an interview with GamesBeat that he listened to De Ronde’s talk and offered to help. De Ronde came back months later saying he had an agreement with Pajitnov about creating a new prototype for a Tetris game.

De Ronde asked if Klanac if he wanted to make Tetris Reversed by Pajitnov.

“Are you kidding me?” Klanac reacted.

They started the project. De Ronde served the go-between on the project, mediating between designer Pajitnov and engineer Klanac. De Ronde wanted to create a title for OneBigGame and donate most of the proceeds to charity. It was a side project that was separate from Guerrilla Games, and he wanted the games to come from famous game developers like Pajitnov.

“We discussed this recently but I never knew who Vedran was during the project,” Pajitnov said during the panel. “Most of the players all concentrate just on the profile in the game. All that matters is the profile of the garbabe in the playfield. The placement of the specific pieces in Tetris. If you remember similar board game, the player tries to use all of the space. I thought maybe this could be done, to attempt to use all of the playfield. I found a way to do it by reversing the game. Instead of putting the pieces in the playfield, I used them to eat the items in the game. That was the main concept of the game.”

De Ronde would receive instructions from Pajitnov about the design of the game, and then pass them on to Klanac, who would turn around and code the game. Then he would pass a note back through Pajitnov about what had been completed. It took a month to do the first prototype.

“I had some questions about how it should work. And then we started the iterations which the communication group” undertook, Pajitnov said.

They did most of the work from March 2012 to November 2012. Klanac did the work in his own game engine, on his own time. And, fortunately, he had a good archiving system.

Notes would be passed back and forth, and Pajitnov never actually met Klanac. And it was just a side hustle for Klanac. Pajitnov said he remembers the prototype and he played it lot.

“Martin was in the middle. And this is one of the reasons why Alexei actually never communicated with Klanac,” he said.

“Then we started doing iterations on how to create the first version,” Klanac said.

Tetris Reversed in action.

As the fall approached, Klanac said everyone was busy. de Ronde was in the process of selling his studio, Guerrilla Games, to Sony. Then the project slowed down and de Ronde said it was dead in the water. Communication became more sporadic.

Three years later, Klanac emailed De Ronde about what was the status of the program.

“Is this dead in the water?” Klanac asked.

De Ronde had no answer but thought it was likely canceled. Then the game sat fallow. Klanac tried one more time to get clarity a year later. But de Ronde never responded to that message.

A playable prototype

So Klanac stopped working on the project and moved on. But he knew the prototype was complete and it could be played.

And so it was lost.

Tetris Reverse unearthed

Vedran Klanac worked on Tetris Reversed in 2012.

Vlad Micu, a business development professional, unearthed this story and united Pajitnov and Klanac for the first time. Micu had met Klanac in Taipei in 2017. They had been friends for a while and saw each other annually at the Reboot Develop Blue conference in Dubrovnik. They had dinner there in April 2023 along with Kate Edwards, CEO of Geogrify, and I was there too. They were talking about the Tetris movie.

Then Klanac mentioned that he still had the prototype of a game called Tetris Reversed in his personal archives. He shared the backstory with Micu, who was stunned that there was a lost prototype of a Tetris game that was never published. And he was also surprised that Klanac and Pajitnov had never met in person.

“Vedran, out of nowhere, drops this massive bomb on us,” Micu said.

Micu was working on a game conference in Prague and managed to get Pajitnov to come out and give a talk.

“I actually ended up sitting down with Alexei and bringing all of this up to him,” he said.

Micu told Klanac he should consider doing a talk about it at the GDC, and they agreed it would be a good story as a kind of post-mortem for a game that had just a prototype. Through Edwards, Micu got in touch with Pajitnov in person and he had gotten the GDC staff’s attention with regards to the story about the lost game. The Tetris company had no objection to the session.

The GDC approved the session out of the interest of the preservation of games. And the story was retold today in a panel at the Game Developers Conference. For the first time in public, they showed the video of the prototype in action.

Pajitnov went over the design decisions, the iterations and the development process. It’s not clear yet if the game will ever be officially published.

“When you see the gameplay video, and when you look at the design elements. This is Tetris for like 300 IQ people,” Pajitnov said.

How the game works

Tetris Reversed was lost for more than a decade.

Concept

This game idea started from the original game of Tetris. Klanac analyzed the game and noticed that the profile of the playfield content is the main point of care of the player. Somehow the main strategy of a regular player in Tetris is to build and maintain the appropriate profile of the “garbage” –without bumps and with deep narrow holes of certain configurations.

If you played Pentomino or any other board variations, you’ll notice that the playing happens all over the playfield – you try to find appropriate spot for the piece everywhere on the playing field. So Klanac tried to understand how to make all the space available.

Game dynamics

Generally, it is borrowed from the original game – the tetramino piece falls down, the player controls its position (to left or to right), state (rotate 90 degrees, maybe replace it, if the “hold”-option is on), and movement (acceleration – “soft drop”, maybe even some “move-up” or pause options,  if the game is too hard to play).

But the main new feature is to make the entire playfield accessible, Klanac said. That was the main point of the new game design. He took the next piece and made it fall down on the front of the playfield full of garbage. At a certain position, Klanac wanted the piece to be embedded into the playfield – with certain UI action. The piece would be placed (or attempted to be placed) – so, its “life cycle” is to be over and the next piece is to be generated. That’s why UI action must be something like a “hard drop” from the original game, Klanac said.

This way the main game dynamics is pretty much set up.

Rules

Tetris Reversed rules

Most of the rules are about the “embedment” action. If all the cells under the piece are full (grey-colored) – then the placement takes place and these cells are cleared. Otherwise, the move fails. In the real prototype, Klanac believed, four background cells remained untouched, the piece disappeared and then the entire playfield got “reversed”: all the no-empty cells turned empty and empty cells – no-empty. Now, Klanac changed this rule a bit, but historically that is what has been implemented.

Later this “Reverse” procedure was implemented in a prototype as a separate action that the player can perform with a certain button anytime during the move. The reason for that was to let the player keep playing if he “ate” almost all the garbage and there is no area for the piece placement.  The number of these “Reverse” actions was assigned limited – 15 or 20. After they are exhausted, the “Game over” happens.

The extra rule was about the collapse of the empty lines. There was no need for this feature, but the great emotional effect made Klanac really want it in a new version. The collapse rule is very simple – if the line of garbage is cleared,  then it collapses as in the original game. The only question is about the liberated space on top of the playing field. He decided to make it completely unplayable afterward. No placement is allowed there and no reversing of the cells. So, the collapse of the line literally shrinks the playing field, showing real progress in the gameplay and making a game harder and harder. Klanac thinks it was a very good decision.

Tetris Reversed

Klanac said it is called Tetris Reverse because it introduces a reversing mechanic where there are two conditions. You can reverse the board, which literally means inverse, or reversing light and dark cells.

That is, the board flips so that the area where a block can flow down in the open-air space becomes an obstacle, and the former obstacles become open spaces on the board.

On the right side of the screen, you see the number of reverses that you’re still left with and how many times you can still reverse. If a piece falls from the top all the way down to the bottom and you don’t place that block, then it will automatically reverse the game.

The idea is to survive as long as you can.

Pajitnov remembered working with de Ronde, asking him to re-create the prototype that Pajitnov had created. Klanac, through de Ronde, promised to work on two versions of the prototype. Then the project just stopped going forward.

“I had almost completely forgotten about its existence,” Pajitnov said.

Now he wonders if the game can be published as it is today.

“Basically, it’s another version of Tetris,” said Pajitnov.

Pajitnov said he was glad the prototype will be preserved for history. As for the current nostalgia around Tetris, he said it’s nice that Tetris is still alive.

“I’m sure there is going to be enormous interest as there is a new prototype that people don’t know anything about,” Pajitnov said.

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The Paris Olympics’ One Sure Thing: Cyberattacks

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In his office on one of the upper floors of the headquarters of the Paris Olympic organizing committee, Franz Regul has no doubt what is coming.

“We will be attacked,” said Mr. Regul, who leads the team responsible for warding off cyberthreats against this year’s Summer Games in Paris.

Companies and governments around the world now all have teams like Mr. Regul’s that operate in spartan rooms equipped with banks of computer servers and screens with indicator lights that warn of incoming hacking attacks. In the Paris operations center, there is even a red light to alert the staff to the most severe danger.

So far, Mr. Regul said, there have been no serious disruptions. But as the months until the Olympics tick down to weeks and then days and hours, he knows the number of hacking attempts and the level of risk will rise exponentially. Unlike companies and governments, though, who plan for the possibility of an attack, Mr. Regul said he knew exactly when to expect the worst.

“Not many organizations can tell you they will be attacked in July and August,” he said.

Worries over security at major events like the Olympics have usually focused on physical threats, like terrorist attacks. But as technology plays a growing role in the Games rollout, Olympic organizers increasingly view cyberattacks as a more constant danger.

The threats are manifold. Experts say hacking groups and countries like Russia, China, North Korea and Iran now have sophisticated operations capable of disabling not just computer and Wi-Fi networks but also digital ticketing systems, credential scanners and even the timing systems for events.

Fears about hacking attacks are not just hypothetical. At the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics in South Korea, a successful attack nearly derailed the Games before they could begin.

That cyberattack started on a frigid night as fans arrived for the opening ceremony. Signs that something was amiss came all at once. The Wi-Fi network, an essential tool to transmit photographs and news coverage, suddenly went down. Simultaneously, the official Olympics smartphone app — the one that held fans’ tickets and essential transport information — stopped functioning, preventing some fans from entering the stadium. Broadcast drones were grounded and internet-linked televisions meant to show images of the ceremony across venues went blank.

But the ceremony went ahead, and so did the Games. Dozens of cybersecurity officials worked through the night to repel the attack and to fix the glitches, and by the next morning there was little sign that a catastrophe had been averted when the first events got underway.

Since then, the threat to the Olympics has only grown. The cybersecurity team at the last Summer Games, in Tokyo in 2021, reported that it faced 450 million attempted “security events.” Paris expects to face eight to 12 times that number, Mr. Regul said.

Perhaps to demonstrate the scale of the threat, Paris 2024 cybersecurity officials use military terminology freely. They describe “war games” meant to test specialists and systems, and refer to feedback from “veterans of Korea” that has been integrated into their evolving defenses.

Experts say a variety of actors are behind most cyberattacks, including criminals trying to hold data in exchange for a lucrative ransom and protesters who want to highlight a specific cause. But most experts agree that only nation states have the ability to carry out the biggest attacks.

The 2018 attack in Pyeongchang was initially blamed on North Korea, South Korea’s antagonistic neighbor. But experts, including agencies in the U.S. and Britain, later concluded that the true culprit — now widely accepted to be Russia — deliberately used techniques designed to pin the blame on someone else.

This year, Russia is once again the biggest focus.

Russia’s team has been barred from the Olympics following the country’s 2022 invasion of Ukraine, although a small group of individual Russians will be permitted to compete as neutral athletes. France’s relationship with Russia has soured so much that President Emmanuel Macron recently accused Moscow of attempting to undermine the Olympics through a disinformation campaign.

The International Olympic Committee has also pointed the finger at attempts by Russian groups to damage the Games. In November, the I.O.C. issued an unusual statement saying it had been targeted by defamatory “fake news posts” after a documentary featuring an A.I.-generated voice-over purporting to be the actor Tom Cruise appeared on YouTube.

Later, a separate post on Telegram — the encrypted messaging and content platform — mimicked a fake news item broadcast by the French network Canal Plus and aired false information that the I.O.C. was planning to bar Israeli and Palestinian teams from the Paris Olympics.

Earlier this year, Russian pranksters — impersonating a senior African official — managed to get Thomas Bach, the I.O.C. president, on the phone. The call was recorded and released earlier this month. Russia seized on Mr. Bach’s remarks to accuse Olympic officials of engaging in a “conspiracy” to keep its team out of the Games.

In 2019, according to Microsoft, Russian state hackers attacked the computer networks of at least 16 national and international sports and antidoping organizations, including the World Anti-Doping Agency, which at the time was poised to announce punishments against Russia related to its state-backed doping program.

Three years earlier, Russia had targeted antidoping officials at the Rio de Janeiro Summer Olympics. According to indictments of several Russian military intelligence officers filed by the United States Department of Justice, operatives in that incident spoofed hotel Wi-Fi networks used by antidoping officials in Brazil to successfully penetrate their organization’s email networks and databases.

Ciaran Martin, who served as the first chief executive of Britain’s national cybersecurity center, said Russia’s past behavior made it “the most obvious disruptive threat” at the Paris Games. He said areas that might be targeted included event scheduling, public broadcasts and ticketing systems.

“Imagine if all athletes are there on time, but the system scanning iPhones at the gate has gone down,” said Mr. Martin, who is now a professor at the Blavatnik School of Government at the University of Oxford.

“Do you go through with a half-empty stadium, or do we delay?” he added. “Even being put in that position where you either have to delay it or have world-class athletes in the biggest event of their lives performing in front of a half-empty stadium — that’s absolutely a failure.”

Mr. Regul, the Paris cybersecurity head, declined to speculate about any specific nation that might target this summer’s Games. But he said organizers were preparing to counter methods specific to countries that represent a “strong cyberthreat.”

This year, Paris organizers have been conducting what they called “war games” in conjunction with the I.O.C. and partners like Atos, the Games’ official technology partner, to prepare for attacks. In those exercises, so-called ethical hackers are hired to attack systems in place for the Games, and “bug bounties” are offered to those who discover vulnerabilities.

Hackers have previously targeted sports organizations with malicious emails, fictional personas, stolen passwords and malware. Since last year, new hires at the Paris organizing committee have undergone training to spot phishing scams.

“Not everyone is good,” Mr. Regul said.

In at least one case, a Games staff member paid an invoice to an account after receiving an email impersonating another committee official. Cybersecurity staff members also discovered an email account that had attempted to impersonate the one assigned to the Paris 2024 chief, Tony Estanguet.

Millions more attempts are coming. Cyberattacks have typically been “weapons of mass irritation rather than weapons of mass destruction,” said Mr. Martin, the former British cybersecurity official.

“At their worst,” he said, “they’ve been weapons of mass disruption.”

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'Bad at almost everything': AI wearable panned by reviewers

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A new AI-fuelled gadget has fallen foul of the tech world’s expectations.

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Microsoft Makes High-Stakes Play in Tech Cold War With Emirati A.I. Deal

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Microsoft on Tuesday plans to announce a $1.5 billion investment in G42, an artificial intelligence giant in the United Arab Emirates, in a deal largely orchestrated by the Biden administration to box out China as Washington and Beijing battle over who will exercise technological influence in the Gulf region and beyond.

Under the partnership, Microsoft will give G42 permission to sell Microsoft services that use powerful A.I. chips, which are used to train and fine-tune generative A.I. models. In return, G42, which has been under scrutiny by Washington for its ties to China, will use Microsoft’s cloud services and accede to a security arrangement negotiated in detailed conversations with the U.S. government. It places a series of protections on the A.I. products shared with G42 and includes an agreement to strip Chinese gear out of G42’s operations, among other steps.

“When it comes to emerging technology, you cannot be both in China’s camp and our camp,” said Gina Raimondo, the Commerce Secretary, who traveled twice to the U.A.E. to talk about security arrangements for this and other partnerships.

The accord is highly unusual, Brad Smith, Microsoft’s president, said in an interview, reflecting the U.S. government’s extraordinary concern about protecting the intellectual property behind A.I. programs.

“The U.S. is quite naturally concerned that the most important technology is guarded by a trusted U.S. company,” said Mr. Smith, who will take a seat on G42’s board.

The investment could help the United States push back against China’s rising influence in the Gulf region. If the moves succeed, G42 would be brought into the U.S. fold and pare back its ties with China. The deal could also become a model for how U.S. firms leverage their technological leadership in A.I. to lure countries away from Chinese tech, while reaping huge financial awards.

But the matter is sensitive, as U.S. officials have raised questions about G42. This year, a congressional committee wrote a letter urging the Commerce Department to look into whether G42 should be put under trade restrictions for its ties to China, which include partnerships with Chinese firms and employees who came from government-connected companies.

In an interview, Ms. Raimondo, who has been at the center of an effort to prevent China from obtaining the most advanced semiconductors and the equipment to make them, said the agreement “does not authorize the transfer of artificial intelligence, or A.I. models, or GPUs” — the processors needed to develop A.I. applications — and “assures those technologies can be safely developed, protected and deployed.”

While the U.A.E. and United States did not sign a separate accord, Ms. Raimondo said, “We have been extensively briefed and we are comfortable that this agreement is consistent with our values.”

In a statement, Peng Xiao, the group chief executive of G42, said that “through Microsoft’s strategic investment, we are advancing our mission to deliver cutting-edge A.I. technologies at scale.”

The United States and China have been racing to exert technological influence in the Gulf, where hundreds of billions of dollars are up for grabs and major investors, including Saudi Arabia, are expected to spend billions on the technology. In the rush to diversify away from oil, many leaders in the region have set their sights on A.I. — and have been happy to play the United States and China off each other.

Although the U.A.E. is an important U.S. diplomatic and intelligence partner, and one of the largest buyers of American weapons, it has increasingly expanded its military and economic ties with China. A portion of its domestic surveillance system is built on Chinese technology and its telecommunications work on hardware from Huawei, a Chinese supplier. That has fed the worries of U.S. officials, who often visit the Persian Gulf nation to discuss security issues.

But U.S. officials are also concerned that the spread of powerful A.I. technology critical to national security could eventually be used by China or by Chinese government-linked engineers, if not sufficiently guarded. Last month, a U.S. cybersecurity review board sharply criticized Microsoft over a hack in which Chinese attackers gained access to data from top officials. Any major leak — for instance, by G42 selling Microsoft A.I. solutions to companies set up in the region by China — would go against Biden administration policies that have sought to limit China’s access to the cutting-edge technology.

“This is among the most advanced technology that the U.S. possesses,” said Gregory Allen, a researcher at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and a former U.S. defense official who worked on A.I. “There should be very strategic rationale for offshoring it anywhere.”

For Microsoft, a deal with G42 offers potential access to huge Emirati wealth. The company, whose chairman is Sheikh Tahnoon bin Zayed, the Emirates’ national security adviser and the younger brother of the country’s ruler, is a core part of the U.A.E.’s efforts to become a major A.I. player.

Despite a name whimsically drawn from “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” in which the answer to the “ultimate question of life” is 42, G42 is deeply embedded in the Emirati security state. It specializes in A.I. and recently worked to build an Arabic chatbot, called Jais.

G42 is also focused on biotechnology and surveillance. Several of its executives, including Mr. Xiao, were associated with a company called DarkMatter, an Emirati cyber-intelligence and hacking firm that employs former spies.

In its letter this year, the bipartisan House Select Committee on the Chinese Communist Party said Mr. Xiao was connected to an expansive network of companies that “materially support” the Chinese military’s technological advancement.

The origins of Tuesday’s accord go back to White House meetings last year, when top national security aides raised the question with tech executives of how to encourage business arrangements that would deepen U.S. ties to firms around the world, especially those China is also interested in.

Under the agreement, G42 will cease using Huawei telecom equipment, which the United States fears could provide a backdoor for the Chinese intelligence agencies. The accord further commits G42 to seeking permission before it shares its technologies with other governments or militaries and prohibits it from using the technology for surveillance. Microsoft will also have the power to audit G42’s use of its technology.

G42 would get use of A.I. computing power in Microsoft’s data center in the U.A.E., sensitive technology that cannot be sold in the country without an export license. Access to the computing power would likely give G42 a competitive edge in the region. A second phase of the deal, which could prove even more controversial and has not yet been negotiated, could transfer some of Microsoft’s A.I. technology to G42.

American intelligence officials have raised concerns about G42’s relationship to China in a series of classified assessments, The New York Times previously reported. Biden administration officials have also pushed their Emirati counterparts to cut the company’s ties to China. Some officials believe the U.S. pressure campaign has yielded some results, but remain concerned about less overt ties between G42 and China.

One G42 executive previously worked at the Chinese A.I. surveillance company Yitu, which has extensive ties to China’s security services and runs facial-recognition powered monitoring across the country. The company has also had ties to a Chinese genetics giant, BGI, whose subsidiaries were placed on a blacklist by the Biden administration last year. Mr. Xiao also led a firm that was involved in 2019 in starting and operating a social media app, ToTok, that U.S. intelligence agencies said was an Emirati spy tool used to harvest user data.

In recent months, G42 has agreed to walk back some of its China ties, including divesting a stake it took in TikTok owner ByteDance and pulling out Huawei technology from its operations, according to U.S. officials.

Edward Wong contributed reporting.

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