Tetris has dominated the hands and minds of dedicated gamers for more than 30 years. First released in the United States in 1989, Tetris has undergone constant iteration, adaptation, and evolution. The classic NES version of Tetris still dominates the game’s official competitive scene, but players keep finding ways to become better and faster. Most recently, a young player has spent the past year refining a new technique called “rolling.” It’s essentially a new way to hold and push buttons on the NES controller, and it's helping him set world records and redefine what high scores are possible.
Tetris is beautiful because it’s simple. The game randomly serves one of seven different block types. The block falls slowly and players score points by piecing the blocks together to form lines. The more lines are formed the bigger the point total. As the blocks descend, players have limited control over the speed of the block’s descent, where it’ll fall along the line, and the direction it will land.
Professional Tetris players competing in the Classic Tetris World Championship (CTWC) have developed two techniques to speed up the descent of their blocks while maintaining a level of control. The first is called delayed autoshift or DAS. The mechanics behind how DAS works are complicated, but basically a player holds left or right on the d-pad of the NES controller to fling the brick to the left or right of the screen. Most players dropping a brick will experience a slight delay in the animation that prevents the brick from dropping at full speed. DAS players have perfected a technique that allows them to skip this animation delay.
DAS is a great upper level technique, but players are limited by the computer in how quickly they can move the block around. Hypertapping a newer technique that lets players move bricks much faster than DAS if they can master some strange hand grips. A hypertapping player is just hitting the d-pad as rapidly as possible to shuffle the brick around the screen.
It’s harder than it sounds. Classic Tetris is played on an old school NES controller—a grey brick that awkwardly digs into your palms if you hold it like a normal controller. To get around this, players have developed a number of weird grips that allow them to hold the controller comfortably while mashing the buttons as quickly as possible.
Rolling is a variation of hypertapping where a player drums multiple fingers on the bottom of the controller. It’s sometimes called flyheccing because it’s similar to a technique pioneered by Hector “Fy” Rodriguez on arcade cabinets. A thumb or finger hovers over the d-pad and the drumming of the fingers pushes the D-pad into this waiting bit of flesh. The drumming vibration of the fingers creates speeds faster than hyper-tapping.
Tetris player Cheez pioneered this technique and has used it to achieve incredible world records. Cheez is the first player to hit a score of 1.3 million points, play well beyond the point that most games fall apart, and win tournaments with rolling.