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Cascade Campus student’s film premiers at Hollywood Theatre
Photos and Story by Abe Proctor
Robin Mihara is good at Tetris. Really good. So good, in fact, that in 1990 – when he was 13 – he placed third at the Nintendo World Championships, a grueling competition that tests one’s skill at the venerable video game triad of Tetris, Super Mario Bros. and Rad Racer.
Now a Multimedia student at Cascade Campus, Mihara is a co-producer – and subject – of “Ecstasy of Order: The Tetris Masters,” a documentary about devotees of the geometric puzzle classic. The film is set to make its general-release premier on Monday, March 12 at the Hollywood Theatre. An informal Tetris contest, open to the general public, starts at 6 p.m., and the film begins at 7:30 p.m.
All these years later, Mihara still loves Tetris. And he’s not alone – Tetris is widely considered to be the most played video game of all time.
“It never gets boring,” he said with a smile. “Every other video game gets boring.”
Anyone with even a passing familiarity with video games knows about Tetris. The game occupies a hallowed niche alongside classic titles like Pac-Man, Asteroids and Super Mario Bros. The object is to rotate blocky geometric shapes as they “fall” down the screen so that when they land, they line up with neighboring pieces to form a solid horizontal row. If you’re successful, the solid row disappears; if not, pieces continue to stack up. If they stack all the way to the top of the screen – game over. And there’s one more thing: the farther you get in the game, the faster the pieces fall.
Among video game aficionados, Tetris has acquired an almost chess-like reputation for sophistication and difficulty. Far from being a mindless shoot-em-up, Tetris requires intelligence, quick thinking and a good sense of spatial awareness. Like master chess players, Tetris wizards have an uncanny ability to see into the future.
“Top players see three or four pieces ahead,” Mihara said.
It’s a pretty safe bet, though, that at age 13, Mihara couldn’t have predicted that one day he would help make a film about master Tetris players. A former film school student, Mihara keeps abreast of developments in the worlds of both video games and independent films. A few years ago, he crossed paths with director Adam Cornelius, who was making a short film about Harry Hong, the first Tetris player to “max out” the game by scoring 999,999 points.
Both men found it odd that the biggest video game in the world didn’t have a champion. Mihara suggested they collaborate on a new film, which would document the search for the top Tetris player in the world. He and Cornelius rented a movie theater in Los Angeles, Calif., rounded up the five Tetris “record holders” and invited the public to compete for the remaining three spots in the eight-person championship field.
As word of the tournament spread, it created a fever among Tetris devotees. For the first time, the tournament would bring together two Tetris giants — Harry Hong and Jonas Neubauer, both of whom had “maxed out” – and possibly a long-lost dark horse competitor: Thor Aackerlund, the man who beat Mihara in the 1990 Nintendo World Championships and who had allegedly “maxed out” the game himself. Mihara and Cornelius filmed the tournament in August 2010, and the result is “Ecstasy of Order.”
In addition to documenting the championship tournament, “Ecstasy of Order” offers a glimpse into the widespread Tetris subculture. The film had its world premier last year at the Austin (Tex.) Film Festival, where it won an audience award. It was also screened at the International Documentary Film Festival in Amsterdam, Netherlands, where it was rated among the top 50 films at the festival; and at the SF Doc Fest in San Francisco, Calif.
For his part, Mihara would like to make more films once he’s finished with the Multimedia program at Cascade. Cinema has always been a passion of his, he said, and combining it with another passion, Tetris, to make “Ecstasy of Order” was really rewarding.
And of course, there’s another passion to occupy him in the meantime.
“I’m trying to ‘max out’ on Tetris,” he said, laughing.