13-year-old becomes first person to 'beat' Tetris

Willis Gibson commanded an endless waterfall for over half an hour on December 21. Then, at the 38-minute mark, the blocks stopped.

For what appears to be the first time, a man has beaten “Tetris.”

From his bedroom in Stillwater, Okla., the 13-year-old “Blue ShieldsHe became the first person to run the classic Nintendo Entertainment System game to a “true killscreen” — a term used to describe when the game freezes because top players like Willis can't keep up with score calculations, said David MacDonald, a pro. “Tetris” player. Willis' feat shattered the decades-old belief that the game was invincible, only questioned in recent years after an artificial intelligence program stumbled on the killscreen and experts developed more efficient techniques to manipulate the original Nintendo controller.

“Until a few years ago, no one was even close to this,” said MacDonald, who creates “Tetris”-related content.Game Scout.”

Willis started getting into the original 8-bit NES version of “Tetris” when he started sixth grade in the late summer of 2021, he told The Washington Post. He was playing a newer version on Xbox with his brother, but after watching McDonald's YouTube video, decided to try his hand at the classic version.

“It's easy to learn at first, but really hard to master because I love it,” he said of the game, in which players try to arrange six different shapes into unbroken rows so that the rows disappear. top of the screen.

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In about 2½ years, Willis emerged as one of the best players in the world. He won regional tournaments, and in October, placed third in the Classic Tetris World Championship — the sport's premier tournament. He has won $3,000 to $4,000 in prize money.

Willis' mother, Karin Cox, said she isn't worried about her son doing too much Tetris or other video games. Willis, who estimates he plays an average of two to three hours a day, is good at regulating his playing time. Other interests include playing the clarinet in his junior high band, riding his bike, and bowling.

And competitive sports have enriched his life, his mother said. Playing Tetris is about more than beating records and winning money. Willis has become part of the professional “Tetris” subculture. He made friends with a “friendly competitiveness”. Old players have guided him.

“The community is absolutely wonderful,” he said.

Around the time Willis started playing, a software engineer developed an AI model that played “Tetris.” Stockbit Macdonald said it reached level 237 before getting a real kill screen. Knowing that it could be done led players to drill into the game's code and find out what would trigger the game to freeze.

At the same time, players learned a new, more efficient way to manipulate the controllers. Willis experienced that evolution firsthand when entering the competitive “Tetris” scene. For starters, he used a control technique like other players at the time Over tappingIt allows players to press their fingers and press buttons quickly.

But in the months that followed, more and more pros switched to the new system.Rolling technique,” in which players use multiple fingers to tap the back of the controller in rapid succession, pressing the buttons on the front with players' fingers. Willis came to the conclusion that if he wanted to compete at the top level, he had to accept it.

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At the start of 2022, he made the switch and began his two-year rise to the top, which culminated in his performance on December 21.

Willis was live streaming through the gaming platform Twitch, where his fellow “Tetris” enthusiasts congratulated him. In the days leading up to that game, Willis came close to inciting a true killing spree. About 38 minutes into the game that rocked the “Tetris” world, he saw an opportunity at level 156 to drop a block in a spot he knew would trigger a killscreen.

“Please deactivate,” he said.

But he missed the spot and the blocks continued to zip across the screen.

Later, he advanced to rank 157. Seconds later, he dropped a blue “L” shape into the left corner, completing a streak and vaporizing it. But instead of spitting out the next section, nothing comes, and the background music — Tchaikovsky's “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy” — cuts out, replaced by a monotonous hum.

A moment passed before Willis realized what had happened. Until then, every Tetris game played by millions and millions of people ended the same way: the blocks came stacking up too fast for the player to handle – game over.

As the realization washed over him, Willis put his hands to his head, took quick, deep breaths and his eyes widened.

“Oh my God!” He said with a high breath.

He slumped into his chair, then leaned forward, holding his head in his hands. The deep breaths kept coming oh god.

“I'm going to leave,” he said later.

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After a few minutes, his breathing slowed and returned to approximately normal. He smiled, turned his head, and closed his eyes.

“I'm shaking so bad.”

Apart from the flatline of a defeated computer glitch, there was a couple of moments of silence.

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