Robin Mihara – As a NWC (Nintendo World Championship) finalist, the contest has always stayed with me. It has been a part of my identity in a way. From completely defining me in my younger years, to being an amusing tale in bars as an adult, I never shed the connection. Tetris was the most important game in that contest, and to this day, I believe the most challenging NES game ever. Even the greatest players still struggle with it’s sadistic timing.
About 2 years ago, I looked at a NES Tetris game on Youtube played by Trey Harrison with a score of 801,222. My high was somewhere in the 550k range I believe, and seeing this guy play was unbelievable. I had seen 3 players clearly better than me in the NWC, but those players (Thor, Jeff Falco and Kenny Welch) were always playing at the slower speeds (due to the time limit)… never to get passed level 12 or so. Trey got to level 29 that game (my highest was 26 I think) where I saw the “kill screen” for the first time (where the speed goes so fast you cant even get a piece to the side). On Trey’s description he wrote that he first became obsessed with Tetris during the 1990 NWC! I didn’t remember a Trey there, so I wrote him and asked what his story was.
He replied that he had come in 3rd and 2nd place in the final two cities and never won a regional contest of his own. He went on to say that he had even broken 3 million points (NWC cart score), which as far ask I know was only the 5th person to do so at the time (the others being the previously mentioned greats, and Jeff Hansen the eventual winner of the younger age group). Trey then said that if I wanted to see the greatest player he had ever seen, to look up Jonas. Jonas had maxed out the score at a million and had done it starting on level 19. Level 19, for those of you who don’t know, is the speed where Tetris gets really really hard. Impossible for most. Once I hit 19, I just scramble to survive, with an occasional Tetris from luck and inevitably a sad miss drop or brain hiccup that kills me 2 pieces later. It’s a nightmare usually, and I’m pretty darn good.
Trey and I emailed back and forth for a while, and both remembered Thor (a friend of Trey’s, and recent Nintendoage acquaintance of mine) claiming that he could get past level 29 into the 30s. It was that night that I realized that I really needed to see these guys play each other. To me Tetris is the thinking man’s game of today. The ADD version of chess if you will. Thor vs. Jonas would be like the Bobby Fisher vs. Boris Spassky of the 21st century. Even if not taken seriously today, the game would some day be talked about as the first true legendary heads-up contest* for the most played video game of all time.
There was only one problem: Thor was now a keyboard player (due mostly to convenience), and Jonas didn’t play anything except the NES version.
That was about the time I met Adam Cornelius. Portland filmmaker and Tetris player himself, Adam was already starting a documentary about Harry Hong – The first official maxout player according to Twin Galaxies record keeping. Adam was under the impression that Harry was the reigning king of NES Tetris (Harry had a small amount of internet fame from his climb to the million-point grail) and had started a low budget documentary about the maxout and Harry funded by Trey Harrison! I excitedly (and nervously for fear that my news would break his dream project) told Adam that there were 2 players that may even be better than Harry. He took the news well, and from there we fantasized about holding a live contest with all the greats, and having big screens, announcers, spotlights, all like we did in 1990. The next day I got a call from Adam. “OK I want to do it. You’re my star. You put it together” I was in my car speeding to his house in 30 seconds.
to be continued….
* no disrespect to the hard drop/hold chamber players of today. I just consider that version a different game entirely from the NES/Gameboy version I know as Tetris