One of the biggest attributes that video game developers are keen to subscribe to is a game's pick up and play playability. A game that needs little by way of explanation, which gamers just instinctively get.
If you’re looking for an example, you only need play Tetris. You probably have, considering its one of the most popular video game titles of all time.
But although its block dropping premise is easy to understand, its route to the global market is anything but as illustrated in Scottish director Jon S. Baird’s latest film starring Taron Edgerton.
1988, and promoting his game, pretty unsuccessfully, at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas is Henk Rogers (Edgerton). Whilst there he gets drawn in by a booth showing off a puzzle game called Tetris. Within seconds Rogers is hooked, and he immediately sees the commercial potential in it.
He decides he wants to purchase the rights, so he does just that, picking them up for the Japanese market, where he now lives, for the PC, Console and arcade. It’s a small market, but a lucrative one considering the nation’s growing obsession with gaming.
Rogers later discovers however, that he may not have exactly bought the rights after all, which is a puzzle in itself.
So he decides to make the hugely bold move of going to the Soviet Union himself, and negotiate directly with those in charge. But Rogers isn’t aware of all the red tape and protocol there is with a communist Russia.
He meets the man who made the game, Alexey Pajitnov (Nikita Efremov), but he has little say as to what happens to his game, so Rogers has to go through certain channels, that are most unhelpful. It also doesn’t help that he’s not the only one interested in the game, which only makes thing even more complicated. But does Rogers have the right moves up his sleeve to win the ultimate game?
Once you get over the relief that this isn’t just one of those terrible game-to-film titles, featuring a number of blocks with Russian accents within a completely contrived storyline – and let’s face it, no one would be surprised if Hollywood did just that, you get to relax a little and actually enjoy the film.
It’s a curious, outlandish tale, only made more so by the fact that it’s all true. It certainly takes a certain kind of courage to visit Russia during this less than friendly period, with the intention of doing business.
Edgerton is brimming with charm, making for the perfect protagonist, who most certainly goes into this entire scenario with more a sense of optimism than a solid understanding of the current Russian regime.
It is a film that could almost make you giddy with the legalities, of which there is plenty, possibly too much so; after half way the film does start to get a little bogged down with all the legal issues, at which point it loses sight of its most necessary component, human emotion. It even goes beyond a spy thriller, and despite all the tough guy heavies, Rogers never really comes across in any serious danger.
And although it’s fascinating to see the involvement of both media mogul Robert Maxwell and his son, it does further muddy the already dark waters of the legal process.
Baird seems aware of this, by occasionally lightening the mood with some fun visual graphics, presented as a video game. But the truth is, it’s not quite enough to do the trick. As fascinating as the story is, there’s no denying it gets in the way on occasion, with just a tad too much reddest of red tape to understand.
A little heavy-handed in places then, perhaps Baird should have possibly considered taking a few tips from the game itself, with moving a few elements around a little more to make more of the film land.
Still, there’s no denying it’s a captivating story, albeit told a little clumsily, highlighting the history of one of the biggest and most successful video games ever.