Recently I have spent a considerable amount of my free time (and I have a lot of it, until Jan 22nd when school starts again) playing tetris – or, rather, Gnometris, a Free tetris clone. It is a form of procrastination, yes, but it is also a good de-stresser, and it exercises the brain, according to Wikipedia. So it isn’t a complete waste of time.

Anyway, it’s quite fun, like I said, but I have one complaint with it. The scoring is absurd. The reasoning being that making harder clears should be worth more, you get 40 points * level for clearing one row at a time, 100 points * level for clearing two rows at a time (a 20 point * level bonus), 300 points * level for clearing three rows at a time (an 120 point bonus), and 1200 points * level for clearing four rows at a time, the maximum (an 860 point bonus).

This makes sense on paper – accomplishing what is hard should be worth more, right? – but in practice it rewards poor tetris playing. Take a look at these two screenshots:

About to get one row and 40 points:
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About to get four rows and 1200 points:
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The former is playing tetris well – clearing lines quickly so as to get to a higher level and more points. The latter is playing tetris poorly – stacking up as many rows as possible and waiting for that line-shape (that might never come) so as to get that giant bonus. The good strategy works on any tetris level – and indeed, I can get up to level 14 using it. The latter crashes and burns by level 10 – you just can’t stack up bricks forever, you know? But at level 10, if I’m playing using my so-called “good strategy”, I’m nowhere near my limit.

The problem is, playing using the so-called “good strategy”, my high score is 47520 (and I think I got lucky there and got a four-clear without intending to). After I sat down and decided to play a game using the “bad strategy” – without any practice at it, mind you – I got 79840 points, blowing my previous high score out of the water. This makes sense, after all; at those low levels, the blocks move so slowly you can afford to use that strategy, and doing so racks up an enormous number of points before you even get to a decent difficulty level. Someone using my “good strategy” simply can’t keep up.

It might be excusable if the “bad strategy” was advisable for the first ten or so levels, and then you had to switch to the “good strategy”. But this is simply not the case. The number of points possible in levels 10-14 using my “good strategy” is significant, but nothing compared to how many would result from one lucky four-clear, so the best strategy would still be the “bad” one.

Now, if the “bad” strategy works and the “good” one doesn’t, why am I calling it “bad”? Because it doesn’t require skill in the same way that the good strategy does. You play by stacking up as high as possible and leaving narrow craters for l-shapes to fall in, not by trying to keep the blocks as low as possible and leaving yourself room to maneuver. If I could capture video off my desktop, I would film myself playing using the good strategy and then the bad one. One clearly requires skill, and the other doesn’t. It feels wrong to have to play in a style that requires no skill in order to rack up points – when that’s necessary, it means the way points are given out is flawed.

So what would I suggest? Well, the bonuses could work if they were reasonable – 1200 points for a four-clear and only 40 points for a one-clear is absurd, and, like I said, leads to bad tactics, but 40 points for a one-clear, 90 points for a two-clear, 150 points for a three-clear, and 220 points for a four-clear, or something similar, might work.
Even better, though, would be to remove the bonus for clearing multiple rows at a time altogether. The fact that you’ve reduced the height of the structure by several rows and thus gained valuable maneuvering space is reward enough, and you shouldn’t gain extra points for getting into a bad situation and then escaping it. If you insist on having scoring variation – not a flat 40 points * level for clearing a row – give bonuses for dropping the bricks quickly. That actually takes skill – being able to decide quickly where the next block should go.

P.S.: The Tetris effect is very real. I see multicolored tetraminos…


3 Responses to Tetris

  1. Thrawn says:

    interesting, but I have a point about how you look at it…I too play tetris avidly, and say that you aren’t looking at truly skilled playing.

    By this I mean you balance the two styles, and in general leave yourself with shapes that are open to the greatest possibility for not getting inopportune holes in your shape. For example, you get a 4 row stack ready, and instead of simply building up higher waiting, you now play to either build another stack of four, or make sure that you keep it from going to high (by making 2-3 lines over, and getting rid of them, or things like that.)

    Knowing when to switch between styles, and doing so effectively is what I believe justifies playing for big points. Although you mention this briefly, you rightly point out that getting that lucky tetris is worth more. But it is all about making the decision to keep playing low-risk, or going out and hoping for a tetris. So lets say you play slow, and you don’t get more points per level. You last say 200 lines, and get 8,000 points.

    Playing high risk, if you get that far you get 60,000, but chances are you won’t last that long, so you may only get 100 lines, which is 30,000. But lets say you play mixed, and get 200. You then have ~34000, and this result is far more likely than getting 200 lines with only getting tetres.

    Meh, I’m sleep-deprived and over analyzing, but I think that the score is worth it. If you decreased the bonus, than although playing high-risk isn’t as worth it, it would still be worth it to try for the tetres….gah, I’m rambling. And good at playing tetris using both ways at once… XD

  2. I suppose the distinction is between whether you play for high scores or consistent scores; since my computer keeps track of the former but not the latter, I’m inclined to go for high scores, which means averaging 30,000 with a chance at 60,000 is much better than averaging 34,000 but not having as high an upside.

  3. Thrawn says:

    well the thing is that the mixed way actually makes you last longer. You can pretty much go solely for tetres, but take of lines after you’ve made the shape (like a regular game, but a 4 line handicap), but as long as you have quick finger you can last really long playing mixed while still getting a tetris everytime a long piece comes–which leads to really good score, while staying consistant

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