Please or Register to create posts and topics.

Epstein's KGB/Mossad handler Robert Maxwell helped bring Russian video game Tetris to world's gamers

Three Jews in Tetris


For Tetris, invented by a Soviet engineer, three Jews from London fought in earnest. But they could not defeat the Moscow bureaucrats.

The new film "Tetris" is about the confrontation for the best-selling video game in history. It was attended by at least three Jews - businessman Robert Stein, who opened the game to the Western world, media mogul Robert Maxwell , a major figure in the games industry, and his son Kevin Maxwell. All three turned out to be losers, and therefore in the film they are not shown as the main characters, but as antagonists. They are depicted as caricature as possible and exclusively in black colors - a kind of greedy, treacherous and stupid cartoon villains.

None of them in the screen embodiment does not cause the slightest sympathy. Robert Stein, played by Toby Jones, speaks with a characteristic grass "r", which in fact was not. This is a frightened, weak-willed creature, a puppet in the hands of the powerful Maxwell Sr. His image evokes a feeling of deja vu: Jones, as if according to a pattern, reproduces his own Dr. Arnim Zola from the Captain America films. On-screen Maxwell Sr. is a typical "greedy Jew" who wants to rake in money with a shovel, but is not ready to pay anyone. Maxwell Jr. in the film has some ambition and a desire to escape from under the iron heel of his father, but he lacks the intelligence and flexibility to succeed.



For this approach, the filmmakers could be accused of anti-Semitism. However, the authors - consciously or not - insured themselves against such reproaches. The Jewishness of Stein and the Maxwells is not directly mentioned in the film. But the main character and the winner in the battle for rights - handsome Henk Rogers - casually declares that there is a share of Jewish blood in his veins. It is difficult to say whether the real Rogers has Jewish roots: in all interviews, he says that both his father and his mother were half-Indonesian, half-Dutch. But it is possible that the filmmakers know something that did not reach the journalists, since Rogers was brought in for consultations during the filming stage.

The cardboard nature of the antagonists is not the only stretch. In Moscow in the 1980s, people are starving, and the atmosphere of tension and fear of the all-powerful KGB is more reminiscent of the Stalin era than the Gorbachev era. The protagonist finds himself in a frightening hostile world, where danger lies in wait for him at every turn. Just like in a computer game - it is no coincidence that animated interruptions, stylized as an arcade, appear on the screen from time to time. They, perhaps, keep from calling what is happening a spreading cranberry. Say, it's just a game, according to the laws of the genre, it requires unambiguity - here is the hero, but the villains.



Behind espionage passions and far-fetched pursuits in Soviet cars, the battle for the rights to Tetris itself can easily fade into the background. Meanwhile, she is a thriller in her own right. The first move in this business game was made by Robert Stein, a Hungarian Jewish dissident born in 1934. In 1956, for political reasons, he was forced to seek asylum in the UK. In the late 1970s, Stein founded his own company, Andromeda Software. His connections with his native Hungary helped him earn a fortune. In the 1970s and 80s, a lot of games and puzzles were produced there: the country became a buffer through which games developed in the socialist camp got to the West.



Stein took advantage of this: in ten years he managed to distribute about 70 games exclusively of Hungarian origin in the West. In 1986, when Stein was being shown some new items for export, he noticed a computer in the far corner. His screen flashed figures falling into a glass. When asked what it was, Stein was answered: “Ah, so, nonsense, do not pay attention.” But his intuition told him that this was exactly what was worth attention. After persistent requests, Stein was reluctantly shown the game and explained that they had very limited rights to it.

Stein immediately appreciated its potential and wrote to the Computing Center at the USSR Academy of Sciences, where the creator of Tetris, Alexei Pajitnov, worked. Stein's proposal was met with indifference: the Soviet functionaries had little idea of ​​what was at stake. Stein was taken aback and contacted Pajitnov and his supervisor by telex. Pajitnov, realizing that no one else was interested in this, took the initiative into his own hands. It took him more than a month to get a "rather positive" response from his superiors.



The real Pajitnov, unlike the cinematic one, did not speak English well and telexed a very simple phrase approved by the authorities: “We are interested and would like to make this deal.” In the Western gaming industry, this was tantamount to a legal agreement. This is how Stein perceived it, not suspecting that these words had no weight for the Soviet side.

Andromeda Software Stein actively cooperated with the British company Maxwell Communication Corporation - at that time it was a huge and powerful media concern. He had his own divisions for the release of video games - Mirrorsoft in the UK and Spectrum Holobyte in the US. The powerful head of this corporation, Robert Maxwell, one of the most influential people in Great Britain, joined the battle for Tetris. He was known for his connections on the other side of the Iron Curtain and personal acquaintance with Brezhnev, Chernenko, Gorbachev, Shevardnadze and other Soviet political leaders.



Stein, fully confident that the rights to Tetris were now legally his, licensed the PC version to Maxwell's Spectrum Holobyte. The game sold with a bang, but in the 1980s, personal home computers, even in the West, were a curiosity. Therefore, Maxwell decided to make money on Tetris for game consoles and machines. Stein had no doubt that he would get the rights. Maxwell took his word for it and signed licensing agreements with Atari and Sega for the home console and coin-op versions.

Tetris was gaining popularity, but all its copies remained, in fact, pirated. Stein exchanged telexes with Pajitnov and his leaders and believed that he was getting more and more rights, while the other side did not suspect this. “I had no idea that a telex could be considered an official document,” Pajitnov recalled. “It seemed to me that the agreement was a serious paper that needed to be signed, corrected, then signed again, and at the end, shake hands and drink champagne.”



After some time, Stein still came to Moscow to sign an official contract. He had to deal with the Elektronorgtekhnika (Elorg) organization, which was responsible in the USSR for the import and export of computers and software. At the Elorg, Stein was received coldly, and after the first visit he left empty-handed. With grief in half, on May 10, 1988, he managed to get the rights, but only for the PC version.

Meanwhile, Atari was preparing with fanfare for a console version. Maxwell, in turn, rubbed his hands in anticipation of the royalties. True, the magnate was worried that Stein fed him promises for a long time, and the contract was never signed. He connected his son to the cause and sent him to Moscow independently of Stein. So, ironically, Robert Stein, Kevin Maxwell and the same Henk Rogers, the main character of the film, who represented the interests of Nintendo, simultaneously refused in Moscow. The story of how Soviet officials hid them from each other in different offices is clearly shown in the film.



After negotiations with Nikolai Belikov, the new director of Elorg, Rogers realized that rights were still on the side of the USSR. True, an agreement was signed for the PC version with a vague definition of the PC, but Belikov corrected this oversight. Since Stein was late in payments under the contract, Belikov invited him to sign a new agreement. In it, he indicated unrealistic numbers of penalties. Stein did not suspect that these fabulous sums were needed to divert attention. Behind their size, he did not notice a small line where the definition of a computer was specified - now neither slot machines, nor consoles, nor portable gaming devices fit under it. Belikov reduced the amount, Stein signed the contract and then called his inattention the biggest mistake in his life.



The Maxwells were also left with a nose - Kevin was very arrogant at meetings at Elorg, which in itself was repulsive. He made another mistake when Belikov showed him the game cartridge he received from Rogers. Among the copyright holders was the Maxwell company. Kevin stated that it was a pirated copy, implying that Rogers was releasing it illegally. But he was understood as if he himself admitted to the release of pirated versions. This became a reason for rejection. In the end, Hank Rogers emerged victorious, and with him, Nintendo. Atari, which spent a lot of money on cartridges and advertising, sued Nintendo, but lost it and was forced to destroy a huge number of ready-to-sell games.



Robert Maxwell suffered the most in this story. Tetris was his hope to improve things in the media empire - the company was rapidly going into the red. He sent Belikov a long list of threats and even took advantage of his connections with Gorbachev, who was just about to pay an official visit to London. “The man who was preparing this visit contacted me,” recalls Belikov, “and strongly suggested that I immediately fly to London, kneel before Robert Maxwell and beg him not to say a word to Gorbachev, otherwise I would be gone.” Belikov admits that he was really scared, but he neglected the advice - fortunately, without consequences.

In 1991, Maxwell died under mysterious circumstances - it is officially believed that while walking on a yacht, he fell overboard due to a heart attack and drowned. After his death, a shortage of 460 million pounds in the company's pension funds was discovered. Maxwell also had several multi-million dollar loans that he was unable to repay. The meeting at the bank was scheduled for the exact day the magnate passed away. The version of death still raises questions, but even if it really was a heart attack, then the failure with Tetris definitely contributed to it. Maxwell experienced her very painfully. As for Maxwell Jr., after the death of his father, he became the largest personal bankrupt in the history of the UK with a debt of 400 million pounds. He, along with his brother Yang, was even tried on charges of fraud and theft of company funds,



Kevin Maxwell said that the writers could have portrayed his father and tougher, although in general he was pleased with the picture. "I won't say the words he usually used to communicate, but he was actually much tougher than in the movie," Kevin told director John Baird.

But the descendants of Robert Stein were horrified by his image. “No one in the West noticed Tetris until my grandfather discovered it,” explains his granddaughter Claire Stein. “He was fascinated by the game and wanted to get the rights not so much for profit, but to show it to the whole world.” Claire and her family feared that Robert would be shown as a fraud, and their fears were justified. “In fact, he thought he had rights. Grandfather simply did not take into account that in the USSR everything is arranged differently. I loved my grandfather very much, he was everything to me. When I found out what he looks like in the film, it shocked me to the core.

But although in the film the image of the losing Jews is far from real, the picture, nevertheless, deserves attention - the business story with the pursuit of rights is shown more or less truthfully in it. The main thing is to perceive it not as a documentary narrative, but as an arcade game where the winner takes all.