In the late 80’s and early 90’s the puzzle based video game Tetris took America, and eventually the rest of the world by storm. However, the history of one of Russias finest exports, has a very dark, complex, and deadly history.
This is the story of the co-founder of Tetris, Vladimir Pokhilko, and unfortunately this story ends in murder.In 1984 in Moscow, Russian scientist Alexey Pajitnov developed the first version of Tetris on an Electronika 60 terminal computer while working at the Soviet Academy of Sciences.
Although Tetris had many versions, the Cold War born game found its way into the hearts of millions, as well as the Nintendo Game Boy, and made Tetris a household name. Tetris was released on June 14, 1989, and has sold more than 43 million copies worldwide.
Born in 1954, Vladimir Pokhilko was a Russian academic and entrepreneur. He worked as a clinical psychologist for many years using puzzles as psychological tests. This skill would prove quite useful when Pokhilko partnered with one of his close friends by the name of Alexey Pajitnov. Pajitnov demonstrated his invention to Pokhilko who would go on to convince Pajitnov that it would make an amazing video game. Tetris was based on an ancient Roman puzzle called Pentamino. Their final product would go on to become one of the greatest video games of all time, Tetris. Often referred to as co-creators and yet Pajitnov earned true fame and recognition as Tetris’ creator. Still living off its fame and wealth to this day while Pokhilko’s name quickly faded away. Even if you are to research the creators of Tetris on their own website you will not see Pokhilko credited.
Soviet authorities demanded that the pair sign over all rights to Tetris. After years of carefully searching for the right way to pitch their game to the right company they were able to broker a license agreement with Henk Rogers, whose Japan-based company Bullet Proof Software gained the rights to sell Tetris. In 1996, the Soviet restrictions expired and so full rights to Tetris moved to Pajitnov who had chosen to move to the United States five years before Pokhilko. The company that both Pokhilko and Pajitnov had made together, AnimaTek International Inc. would be led Pajitnov with Rogers as its chairman and largest stockholder. In 1996, when Soviet restrictions expired however, Rogers created a new company by the name of Tetris Co. Which bought the rights off Pajitnov for Tetris ultimately leaving Pokhilko completely uninvolved.
Through all the changing of rights, Pokhilko was left struggling with financial ruin. After moving with his wife Elena and 12-year-old son Peter to San Francisco to help run his software company AnimaTek he was slowly being pushed to the edge. A shortage of funds and the pressure to finance more “Hollywood” level computer effects led to a series of company problems. Polkhilko was left to watch as an outsider while Tetris rapidly grew in popularity and both Pojitnov and Rogers earned all the fame and wealth that came with it.
On September 24th, 1998, Pokhilko went on to murder his wife Elena, son Peter and then in the end himself. Within their family home in Palo Alto, Pokhilko bludgeoned his family with a hammer before then stabbing them each repeatedly with a hunting knife as they lay in bed sleeping. Once they were both dead, he stabbed himself once in the neck with the knife, ultimately ending his life as well. A close family friend later notified the police at 3:30pm the next day after failing to reach the family multiple times and arriving at home. Police found the bodies of Elena and Peter in their beds. No signs of a struggle possibly indicating that they were attacked while asleep. Pokhilko’s body was found in Peter’s room with the knife still in his hand. Along with a hammer later retrieved by police they also found a note. The note reads, “I’ve been eaten alive. Vladimir. Just remember that I am exist. The devil.” It is unclear if this note was intended as a suicide note from Pokhilko, or if it was written by someone else.
It is reported that the following Wednesday after the murders, large scale software company Squaresoft arrived at AnimaTek’s offices with an offer of $200,000 for the company’s services. This deal would have eased the company’s financial problems and possibly some of Pokhilko’s struggles. It is likely that due to Pokhilko’s actions his name has been steadily erased from most of the videogames industries’ history of any of his contributions. Pajitnov was able to regain the rights to Tetris and in turn earn his fair profits while Pokhilko was left to run a failing company alone. Without Pokhilko, it is likely that the world would not have ever seen Tetris, and without Tetris Nintendo’s Game Boy would not likely have been so successful.