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Aleksander Ustaszewski

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Blockout



Developer: California Games
Designers: Aleksander Ustaszewski, Mirosław Zabłocki
Year: 1989

There are a few computer games I really like. I have returned to them many times because of some quality they possess that is rare to find in other games. Admittedly, I am not very interested in finding new ways of spending my time, so going back to old games does at least limit my choices a little. Also, I have no intention of buying new hardware, which rules out most games produced in the last five years or so.

Blockout was released in 1989 by California Dreams. I was five years old at the time and I am not quite sure how long it took my father to get hold of the game. I know that he played it a lot, and I know that I enjoyed watching and playing myself. Since then, I have returned to Blockout many times, the most recent time being about three weeks ago. It is a game brilliant in its simplicity, it is Tetris with one extra dimension.

On the easiest level, blocks look exactly like in Tetris, but can be rotated in three dimensions to fill a three-dimensional well, seen from above. As in Tetris, a layer vanishes when it is complete and the player acquire points accordingly. The added dimension adds a lot, however. After the initial difficulties of learning to rotate the blocks, the challenge is to be able to mentally fit pieces together as they fall down. On the medium level, the well is merely three cubes wide, three broad and ten deep. The blocks are also different, lacking some easy blocks and adding a few three-dimensional ones (normal Tetris pieces are all flat). On the hardest level, the well is bigger again, but now some really nasty blocks appear. They are Tetris blocks, but with one added cube. For instance, the piece in Tetris that looks like the movement pattern of a horse in chess, can have an extra cube anywhere on it, which makes it extremely difficult to place. Chiral pieces like that takes a while to get used to.

Blockout is really nice. It requires continuous action and concentration, which makes it excellent as a break from something else. Still, its challenge is of a kind that does not hamper listening ability, meaning that it is no problem listening to audio books while playing. The only drawback is that the game becomes a bit strange at really high speeds. The easiest set is no fun, because I start at the highest speed and then it is only a matter of hitting keys fast enough. Also, the blocks always appear in the lower left corner, so moving them to the opposite takes too much time when pieces are falling fast. The other two levels are better and I still have difficulties with the hardest one even on moderate speeds (5 out of 9). Fortunately, there exist online clones of Blockout (see below), so it does not look like I need a DOS-emulator for my laptop.

Links
The original game
Online clone of Blockout
Another Blockout clone

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