Chances are, you know the name Alexey Pajitnov. Arguably the most famous game designer to come out of Russia, he gave the world Tetris, which is regularly referred to as one of the greatest video games of all time.
However, the name Vladimir Pokhilko might be less familiar - despite the fact that he is often credited as assisting with the creation of the game alongside Pajitnov, and would later work with him on other video games. While Pajitnov continues to live off the fame of his most famous creation, Pokhilko has faded into history.
Pokhilko was a Russian academic and a clinical psychologist whose work included using puzzles as psychological tests. He was a close friend of Pajitnov's, and when he was shown the concept of Tetris, he convinced Pajitnov that it would make a perfect video game. Pokhilko helped shape the final product and, post-launch, used the puzzler to conduct clinical psychological experiments.
However, due to the political climate in Russia at the time, neither Pajitnov nor Pokhilko were able to make any money off the game. Because it had been created during work time on state-owned equipment, Soviet authorities demanded the rights to the title, which were duly transferred to the state-owned company Elektronorgtechnica (ELORG).
The story of how Tetris became the hottest property in video games - and created a massive legal bust-up involving the likes of Nintendo, Mirrorsoft, Sega and Tengen - has been covered many, many times in the past. Deals were conducted by Dutch businessman Henk Rogers, who would work with Pajitnov and Pokhilko to establish AnimaTek, a Moscow-based 3D software company. This venture gave the pair the means to generate their own capital away from the state-owned Academy of Science of the Soviet Union, and Pajitnov continued to search for that elusive Tetris successor.
Games like Welltris, Hatris (which Pokhilko co-invented - he's even included as a character in the NES version) and Wordtris couldn't replicate the critical and commercial performance of his breakthrough hit, however. 1990's Faces - co-created with Pokhilko - was also given a lukewarm response.
In 1991, Rogers convinced Pajitnov and Pokhilko to leave Russia and move to the US, where they established an AnimaTek studio in San Francisco. Two years later saw the release of aquarium sim El-Fish - a moderately successful PC title - and in 1995 they produced the FPS Ice & Fire together.
In 1996, the Soviet hold on the rights to Tetris expired and they reverted back to Pajitnov, finally giving him the chance to make some money from his most famous creation. Pajitnov and Rogers formed The Tetris Company, which continues to oversee the game's licensing to this very day.
Sadly for Pokhilko, the outlook was less positive. He was left at AnimaTek, a studio which was struggling to keep its head above water. To make matters worse, economic problems in Russia - where most of the company's staff were based - began to apply even more pressure.
While his friend and former business associate Pajitnov was beginning a new chapter in his life which would bring the wealth and recognition he had been so cruelly denied following the initial success of Tetris, Pokhilko's story was about to come to an abrupt and tragic end. On the night of September 21st, 1998, Pokhilko used a hammer and hunting knife to murder his wife Elena while she slept. He then killed his 12-year-old son Peter using the same tools. Pokhilko then slit his own throat with the knife and was found by the police on the floor of his son's bedroom.
A note was discovered at the scene, the contents of which were not disclosed until 1999. It read:
I've been eaten alive. Vladimir. Just remember that I am exist. The devil.
It has been reported that Squaresoft showed up the following Wednesday at AnimaTek's offices, ready to pay $200,000 for the company's services - money that could have eased the company's problems and Pokhilko's suffering.
Pokhilko's actions have no doubt resulted in his contributions to video games being airbrushed from history. Tetris is, after all, the perfect rags-to-riches tale which proves the endurance of the human spirit. However, while Pajitnov was able to eventually regain the rights to Tetris and gain his just reward, his friend and co-creator Pokhilko was left behind to run a failing company which would eventually drive him to the brink; without him, we may not have had Tetris at all, and without Tetris, would the Game Boy been as successful?
Thanks to Chris Scullion for bringing this tale to our attention. If you don't follow him on Twitter already, you really should.
This article was originally published by nintendolife.com on Mon 12th March, 2018.
Vladimir Pokhilko - the Russian Frank Grimes.
@SLIGEACH_EIRE I mean it's a horrible story. I don't mean to make light of it, but man, he could just not catch a break.
@QBertFarnsworth Sorry, I hadn't got to that awful bit. If you look at the weapons he used, hammer and knife. Were they symbolic? Hammer and sickle of Russia? His home country that had robbed him.
@Damo One more.
"Pokhilko's actions have no doubt resulted in his contributions to video games being airbrushed from history. Tetris is, after all, the perfect rages-to-riches tale which proves the endurance of the human spirit."
Freudian slip. And I don't know that it is the "perfect rags-to-riches tale " and doesn't "prove the endurance of the human spirit."
It's a very sad end and it was unfair that he was denied the profits and success of his co-creation. Interesting read, but also deeply tragic and disturbing. I never knew this before.
Decent Gaming Historian episode of it all here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_fQtxKmgJC8
This is a great read, cheers
It was so much so I didn't read it all, but was he eaten alive literally?
So the dude went mad and became Chris Benoit? Good riddance, only a coward would do that to his own flesh and blood. If you want to die just kill yourself so your wife and son can move on, no need to take them with you.
Did he have to kill his family? Just kill yourself... geez. Coward, too afraid to die alone.
Why wasn't he able to become a part of the Tetris Company with Pajitnov and Rogers?
If you create something on company time with company machines in the west, you won't get to keep the fruits of that either. FYI.
@RETRO_J I see now how it was intended to come across, I read it in the literal sense.
Well that went from 2 to 11 very suddenly.
Jesus, that's a very tough story! The poor man, his wife and child . Words don't mean much.
The author of the story clearly wanted me to feel sympathetic towards Pokhilko, but it's not going to happen. I've endured crushing financial hardships in my life, nearly homeless on two separate occasions - but, for some reason or another, I never felt compelled to mercilessly stab and bludgeon my loved ones. What a sick, pathetic excuse for a human.
@andywitmyer Probably had some kind of mental illness he was dealing with as well. Not to excuse any of his actions, but even if we’ve gone through similar circumstances, it’s impossible to truly understand another human’s sufferings and demons.
@RETRO_J @SLIGEACH_EIRE I guess it could be read that way. Definitely didn’t come across that way to me initially given the way it is written.
@joedick that’s what I wanna know. Seems like the lingering unanswered question.
Interesting article to think about the different economic treatments between state-sponsored, “top down” communism and free market capitalism. Initially when the Soviets keep so much control over the Tetris creators and prevent them from reaping the economic rewards that we all fee are due to them, it seems so unfair (and I think it is unfair to some degree). But then when they are able to shift to the capitalist, money chasing system, they continually create titles that pale in comparison to Tetris and eventually it drives one of them to madness. I wonder if they did so well with Tetris precisely because they weren’t trying to create a hit and it came from a more reasoned academic background. The tragedy in both systems indicates to me that we could somehow find some middle ground between the two. Anyway, good article!
Wow, what an interesting and equally sad story.
Damn, that's insane! I didn't expect the story to turn so dark all of a sudden.
@PtM something something no excuse for your own failure, something something the lives of your family are not your property, something something people like that are the reason why every now and then I really, really hope there is an eternal afterlife of torment awaiting that kind of evil.
I just hope his family died quickly and as painlessly as possible...and he did not.
WOW, that story too turn I did not expect.
Honestly I'm surprised this doesn't happen more often, writers just like creators are often dealing with these kind of depression/debt spiral issues since they get lil to no recognition for their work.
Never heard of these people.
Damn, that escalated quickly...
It's that classic tale all over again:
Boy meets girl
Boy co-creates global phenomenon video game
Boy butchers girl, their son and then himself.
I've lost count of the number of times it's happened...
Well, you're not wrong--I'm a writer, and depression (though not always debt) is a daily part of the process of creating any art. Most people who consume art really have zero idea just how much darkness is involved in creating it. And I'm one of the more sane ones...some of the writer friends I know? Hoo boy, you don't even want to know the issues they wrestle with.
As for homicidal and suicidal urges...that takes an entirely different level of mental issues. Specifically homicide--it takes certain high-level personality disorders to reach that point. Suicide would be--and IS, to be honest--a much more common thing for creators to do. That's why you don't see this kind of thing as much as a "pained artist" taking their own life.
To kill others, ESPECIALLY those who aren't threatening and in fact are close to you, takes severe personality disorder. This man likely had this issue well before his troubles started. And treatment is mostly ineffective. Often, these individuals actually CAUSE the problems and circumstances they face in life, albeit unconsciously, thanks to their underlying issues. It really is unfortunate...especially for his family, who ended up caught in it all.
Well, psychology lesson over, lol. Back to being a regular old video game fan...
I cannot bring myself to forgive a person who kills his own wife and child, no matter what drove him to it. His wife and child were robbed of far more than he was, and by HIM. If he took only his only life, it would be a tragic story. But what he actually did is vile and unforgivable.
Nope, sorry, not going to feel sorry for some psychopath who murdered his family. That is ****ed up NintendoLife. He is not the hero of this story, he's the villain.
Well damn. What a tragic story and another reminder of the mental impact that financial desperation has on someone. To do something like that means that he must have had some high-level disorder but the pressures seem to have made him literally break. Never knew about this and a great article.
I made an account just to leave this comment. There are many people who struggle with severe mental illness and still would never even consider killing their own family. Furthermore, it's clear there was a high degree of premeditation involved, which means his actions could not be considered anything but evil. Clearly there are some people in the comments offering him some sympathy - disgusting - but my major concern is that you could interpret this article as sympathetic to the man as well. God, I hope it's just poorly written in that regard. Not a good look, Nintendolife.
I think Hollywood has already started making a movie about this Tetris story. Now the world will know the evil of puzzle games.
@RETRO_J there's no context on the internet
Wow that escalated fast, I wasn’t expecting that. I hadn’t heard about this before, tragic but interesting story.
what an ***hole really. doesn't deserve to be remembered.... I googled the case. they say there was written "the davol" not "the devil" in his suicide note
@TheLobster Real life isn't some Manichean tale with hard-defined heroes and villains. I for one appreciate the article for the way it tells the story through the lens of human fallibility instead of good-and-evil crap.
People do suffer from mental health issues and it's not at all thier fault.
Didn't expect the story to turn into a murder-suicide. Must have suffered from paranoid schizophrenia.
Wow.... That's dark. Never would have expected that tidbit in the history of Tetris.
Tetris co-creator murders his wife and child. His life is "tragic."
Uh, no. He's a monster. His family's lives were tragic. He deserves to be relegated to the ash heap of history. People all over the world manage to go through a lot more without feeling the need to premeditate and then murder innocent people.
Good job, games journalism.
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